Amid a flurry of major additions this summer, Daniel Sturridge’s presence at Liverpool has almost been forgotten.
Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino are the headline-grabbing signings in what has been an exciting few months for Brendan Rodgers, with even the loss of Raheem Sterling not enough to burst the bubble of optimism floating over Anfield right now.
After a season in which the Northern Irishman was forced to use the aforementioned Sterling as a striker with alarming regularity, he now has a wealth of options to lead the line, and although this is a real positive, news of Sturridge potentially returning in roughly a month’s time will throw up a real headache.
Okay, it’s the sort of dilemma that will have Rodgers up at night moving the salt and pepper pots around on his kitchen table in a less anxious manner, but there’s not doubt that it will be a problem he’ll have to take on – well, as long as his England international remains off of the treatment table!
So what will Rodgers be able to do? Well here are FIVE options for the return of Sturridge…
By far the most popular option with fans is a narrow midfield diamond with Benteke and Sturridge up top together.
This formation promises goals… after all the English forward is one of the most prolific marksmen in Liverpool’s history – he netted 33 times in his opening 50 appearances for the Reds – while the Belgian has averaged around one goal every two games in a blunt Aston Villa side over the course of the past three campaigns.
As a pairing all seems promising to say the least, as Sturridge’s pace in behind should open up space for Benteke, who likes to play a little deeper, and give defence a major headache – as was the case when Luis Suarez would roam in the now famous ‘SAS’ partnership.
However, there are drawbacks, with width being a major issue. The full-backs are relied upon to bomb forward, and with Rodgers lacking a genuine holding midfielder there is every chance his side could be exposed to counter-attacks, as they were in 2013/14 when they conceded a staggering 50 Premier League goals – which arguably cost them the title.
With pace and a genuine goal threat, Sturridge is a useful wide forward. Cutting in from the right he would offer another source of concern for opposing centre-backs, and his ability to drift in could see him thrive off of the hold-up play of Benteke.
At the back end of 2013/14 Sturridge often operated from a slightly wider role alongside Suarez and Raheem Sterling, albeit the trio were fluid in terms of positional movement, to devastating effect.
Although this looks, on the surface, to be a solution, Sturridge’s goalscoring prowess is obviously limited by being further from goal, while his desire to play centrally was driving factor behind his move from Chelsea to Liverpool in 2013.
There’s no doubt that a fit and firing Sturridge has the ability to lead the Liverpool attack single-handedly. Unlike Benteke, the Englishman is a genuine threat in behind, while his physical attributes – he is powerful and full of running – mean he can keep opposing defenders occupied.
He looked impressive as the main striker when fit last term, and his early goalscoring run in 2013/14, before Suarez’s return, kick-started a title surge at Anfield.
This selection though is perhaps a bit of political hot potato at Anfield for Rodgers, who, after being given, what looks like, greater control over transfers can hardly then bomb out his most expensive ever signing in Benteke. A crowded fixture list may, however, open up this possibility.
The switch to a 3-4-3 (or 3-4-2-1 of we’re being picky) over the winter period changed Liverpool’s 2014/15 season for the better. The three men at the back and rampaging wing-backs provided a solid base and stemmed the flow of goals going in at the wrong end, while allowing key creative talents like Philippe Coutinho to roam in their favoured positions.
Flipping the front trio to a one and a two could allow Benteke and Sturridge to play together up front, with the prospect of the aforementioned ‘Brazilian magician’ or Firmino in behind pretty terrifying.
However, the formation often made Liverpool a little blunt last term when opponents worked out how to prevent the Reds from building from the back, while it would appear that only one of Firmino or Coutinho could be deployed in a single game.
This is now an option for Rodgers. Last season Sturridge’s return was a major talking point, and perhaps the hurry to get him back in the team to fill the obvious need for a striker had a knock on effect on his recovery.
With Benteke, Danny Ings and Divock Origi – and even Firmino, Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini (the former can play up front and the latter two are yet to be offloaded) – Rodgers has options to call upon, so, in theory, he can ease Sturridge back in and help him play his way back to peak condition gradually.