It’s been subtle, hidden and gone significantly under the radar, but Brendan Rodgers has managed to assemble an attacking trio of players which could win the league.
An over-statement perhaps, but Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge present a balanced and potent lineup. And with Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana and Mario Balotelli all waiting in the wings, Rodgers may already have the squad ready to win.
But back to that trio. You talk about the best attacking forces in Premier League history and you usually think of pairs; Shearer and Sutton at Blackburn 96′, Yorke and Cole in 99′, Henry and Bergkamp in 04′ or even Drogba and Anelka in ’10. But to slant that hypothesis and think of a three isn’t something that’s been frequently done. Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez in 2008 was certainly quite something, but apart from that, there’s not really been any super-deadly trios.
The significance in this relays to the fact that Rodgers has now reverted back to a 3-4-3 of sorts, essentially creating a resistant platform in defence and midfield for this trio to fluidly float around the pitch with a sort of free will. And there really is a sense of strong foundation in defence and midfield – Jordan Henderson and Lucas are not marauding midfielders – they have both maintained fairly rigid roles in conjunction with Liverpool’s improved form. Moreover, Alberto Moreno and Markovic – Liverpool’s starting wingbacks, are just that – wingbacks. They’re far more reserved than traditional wingers. Coutinho, Sturridge and Sterling are the offensive outlets of this time, operating with a licensed freedom provided by the solid rearguard behind them.
Their sky-high potential relates to the good balance amongst them that creates a unified synergy, brought about by the differing qualities that they all possess. Sturridge is one of the best goalscorers in the Premier League, and there’s a deadly and steely composure to his box play that makes him a powerful goal threat.
Because Sterling’s been on the scene for about three years and has already made an impact on the international stage, his superlative ability is already embedded firmly in the British conscience. But it’s difficult to remember an English player at his age being quite this good – Liverpool have practically built their team around him – and he’s only 20 years old (let that sink in). If he maintains this level of progress into the future, Sterling may become an English great.
Coutinho is perhaps the least accomplished of the three at the moment, but Rodgers’ emphatic praise of him in the last couple of weeks – notably comparing him to Luis Suarez – is a sign of the Brazilian’s pedigree. And perhaps Coutinho is the key to this package, because he’s uniquely a very creative player. If Sturridge is deadly poacher and Sterling an attacking driver (or ‘shadow striker’ in behind) Coutinho is the no.10, pulling the strings and dictating play. And there’s the synergistic balance that makes the unit tick.
But there are some more uniform features to them, too. They’re all versatile attacking players across the front in a positional sense. Sturridge played as a wide forward in Chelsea days under Andre Villas-Boas, cutting in from the right on his left foot. He also often drifted into wide positions as part of the ‘SAS’ when Liverpool operated with a diamond last season. Sterling has now played as a 10 for England, on either flank at various points for Liverpool, and has lead the line in recent weeks. Coutinho hasn’t played up front, but has played on either flank, as a 10. and in a deeper midfield role when asked to. These players aren’t ‘specialists’ as such, but multi-talent, ubiquitous individuals who can cause defences all sorts of problems with their ingrained fluidity. How do you successfully mark a catalogue of players who take such a superlative ease in marauding into arbitrary spaces so often?
And, perhaps most importantly, they’re all incredibly quick. That may seem like a fairly elementary asset in modern day football, but it seems more and more likely that pace is key ingredient to Rodgers’ attacking teams. Last season, Liverpool could blow teams out of the water inside 20 minutes with intense, explosive starts, and were also deadly with lightening quick counter attacks catching teams up the field. Their impotency at the start of the season seemed due to this too – a Balotelli, Lallana, Markovic front is slow, and Liverpool’s transitions were dogged and predictable.
Sturridge is 25, Sterling is 20, Coutinho is 22. They’ve already been playing together for about two years, and with youth on their side, it’s difficult to put any form of respective cap on how far they can collectively go.
This season may be a bridge too far given their slow start in their post-Suarez adaptation period, but Liverpool and Rodgers could be a potently successful outfit in years to come with these three playing together. Liverpool now harbour no need to invest huge sums in controversial players anymore, their team is good enough to succeed at the highest level.