Liverpool will desperately need the goals of Daniel Sturridge if they want to push for a Champions League spot at the end of the season. Although the England international is vital to their success this season, a number of unlikely candidates are now starting to show their worth at the club, despite a number of fans losing patience with them this season.
One of those players is Simon Mignolet. A few weeks ago the Belgian stopper had lost his place Brad Jone. Despite the fact that Mignolet was thought to be deemed surplus to requirements, with Rodgers rather brashly stating that the player would be dropped ‘indefinitely’, the goalkeeper has impressed in recent matches, showing the form that earned him the move to Anfield in the first place.
Mignolet has not conceded in his last three Premier League matches, including an impressive performance against Aston Villa at Villa Park. He was also in fine form against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge. Although Liverpool lost the game, Mignolet made a number of excellent saves to take the tie into extra time.
He looks sharper and more confident between the sticks now, and has responded well since he was dropped by the manager. It’s no coincidence that Liverpool now have the second-highest total of clean sheets in the Premier League with eight, second only to Southampton’s nine.
A lot of credit must go to the goalkeeper but there have been a number of improved performances from defenders in the team as well. Mamadou Sakho has been excellent for the club since he returned to the side. He previously struggled with injuries and has fallen out of Brendan Rodgers’ plans in the past but he has been very solid since he returned to full fitness.
An imposing figure, Sakho has an excellent leap on him and is starting to develop into the player that Liverpool were hoping to buy from Paris Saint Germain when they paid £17million for him in the summer of 2013. His partnership with Martin Skrtel and Emre Can in Liverpool’s 3-4-2-1 formation has worked well, as Liverpool are finding a defensive solidarity that wasn’t there last season.
In a way, Liverpool have been forced to perform well in defence due to the lack of goals being scored up front. Now that Sturridge has returned to the side, it will be interesting to see whether Liverpool can keep performing at the back, as there is no doubt that the forward will bring goals to the side. The Merseysiders are now only four points adrift of fourth place and are now really starting to hit top form after struggling in the earlier stages of the season.
Rodgers has often struggled to get the balance between defence and attack right since he has been manager of the club. Often, goals from Suarez and Sturridge would amount to more than the goals conceded at the other end. But Rodgers no longer has the luxury of Suarez’s goals available to him, so the Liverpool defenders have really produced when their manager has needed it most.
A defensive stubbornness coupled with the attacking flair of Sterling and Sturridge could mean that Liverpool can begin looking up the table, rather than languishing in mid-table mediocrity. It’s true that Sturridge’s return is vital to Liverpool’s success, but continued good form in a defensive sense must not be underestimated, especially at a highly ambitious club like Liverpool.