If you recall, we spoke last week about the frankly bizarre juxtaposition between Man City’s home and away form. I remarked that City would struggle to truly compete for the title unless they were able to improve their performances away from the Etihad. However, in my ramblings on Manuel Pellegrini’s side, I had failed to appreciate that they weren’t the only side near the top of the table experiencing that exact issue.
As it turns out, the side immediately below City is also suffering from the same malaise when they play away from home. This is of course Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool; and after a poor away performance against Hull City on Sunday, Liverpool fans will no doubt be concerned at their side’s current inability to get the job done away from home.
In six fixtures at Anfield this season, Liverpool have only failed to win once, and have a positive goal difference of 10 from their home encounters. Away from home, Rodgers’ side has only won two out of seven, with a goal difference of -1, and Sunday’s defeat at the KC Stadium has left Liverpool seven points off the top spot; particularly disappointing when one considers the rampant way in which they started the season.
As we said with City, it is crucial that Liverpool improve their away form if they are to be in the mix for the Premier League this season, but their struggles have been compounded somewhat by the loss of one of their key players – Daniel Sturridge – to injury on Sunday morning.
Sturridge has been a central part of Rodgers’ gameplan this season; dovetailing terrifically well with strike partner Luis Suarez. Of Liverpool’s 25 goals in the league season, Suarez and Sturridge have accounted for 20 of them; and the partnership between the two of them up front has been the biggest reason for Liverpool’s most impressive start to the season for a number of years.
However, with Sturridge now likely to be out for a couple of months, Liverpool will be unable to field their fearsome duo together, and with no other fit strikers available, Rodgers will have no choice to field Luis Suarez as a lone striker – precisely what he did at the KC Stadium.
The issue with this is that Luis Suarez is far less effective when he forced to play in that way. The Uruguayan looked frustrated at having to lead the line against Hull, and it was clear that without Sturridge alongside him, he was simply not able to have the same impact on the game that he usually would. One of the reasons why Sturridge has become so integral to Suarez’s game is that the Englishman’s ability further forward allows Suarez to focus on what he enjoys doing – buzzing around the pitch and using his superior close control to create chances as well as score goals for himself.
Without Sturridge there as the principal centre forward, Suarez was shoehorned into that position; but with no one capable of playing the role of creator, the little Uruguayan was starved of possession and failed to make an impact. When he did receive the ball he had to come deep to receive it; affording Hull the time and space to get numbers behind the ball and snuff out the chance.
What will be a concern for Brendan Rodgers is that with Sturridge out for some time, this is not a situation that is easily rectifiable. Liverpool’s movement in the final third did improve when Philippe Coutinho was introduced in the 65th minute, but up until that point that attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Victor Moses and Jordan Henderson had done very little to inspire confidence. With Coutinho not fully fit himself; Rodgers faces the prospect of a busy Christmas with Suarez as his only fit forward, and with trips to White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad to look forward to in the next four weeks, Sturridge’s injury couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Sadly for Rodgers, it’s not just up front that Liverpool have mounting issues to contend with. His defence turned in a dismal display at Hull, and given that prior to this fixture Steve Bruce’s side had averaged only 0.75 goals per game, conceding three goals to this newly promoted outfit is simply not good enough for a side with Champions League aspirations.
The Christmas period is often one that makes or breaks a team’s season, and with a renewed defensive ineptitude now evident and arguably their most important player unavailable for the duration of that period, Brendan Rodgers’ managerial abilities are going to be tested to the max. Thankfully for the men in red, they can now look forward to two home games against teams in the bottom half, and this should give Rodgers to put a plan into place that will get the best out his Sturridge-less team. Without wanting to sound too dramatic, how they deal with this setback could well be the difference between Liverpool making the step back to the big time or failing to do so.