How Liverpool can adapt to Suarez departure
As Tottenham discovered last season, regardless of how much money you receive for your star man, it’s extremely difficult to replace him.
For Tottenham and Gareth Bale last season, read Liverpool and Luis Suarez this season – it’s difficult to imagine how Liverpool can replace a player who scored 30 league goals last season.
In reality, however, Spurs’ transfer approach was entirely correct. Their problem in Bale’s final campaign was that they relied on him too much – which was understandable given his incredible goalscoring contribution, but meant that when he was off-form, or injured, the rest of the side struggled to function. Bale was effectively handed a free role, which meant he produced some stunning moments of genius with his license to roam, but the structure of the rest of the side fell down.
They didn’t want to recruit one single individual to replace Bale – partly because they wouldn’t find anyone capable of replicating his contribution, but partly because they didn’t want to remain a one-man team. Instead, they attempted to replace his numbers – the likes of Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado would share the goalscoring burden.
Evidently, it didn’t work. But that was more of a damning indictment upon the way the players were managed, rather than the signings themselves. If Eriksen had brought his Ajax form, Lamela his Roma form and Soldado his Valencia form, it would have worked perfectly and Spurs would have been a better team. The idea fell down because of the poor management, not the because of the signings themselves.
Liverpool are attempting something similar. They too relied heavily upon Suarez, and as well as replacing his 31 goals, there’s also 12 assists to find from somewhere.
The peculiar thing about Liverpool’s campaign was that Brendan Rodgers never entirely found a formation that played both Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in their natural positions, and suited the side as a whole. The 3-5-2 was ideal for the SAS, but the defensive side of the game suffered. The midfield diamond was occasionally very useful, but it lacked the width Rodgers loves. Naturally, Rodgers is a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 man, but that wasn’t entirely compatible with the SAS – one was shoved wide.
Of course, it wasn’t a barrier to a title challenge, but that was because Suarez, in particular, was contributing such an incredible individual season. But the point remains valid when you consider who Liverpool need as a replacement – they don’t, in reality, want another player in Suarez’s mould.
Jamie Carragher has backed Daniel Sturridge to have another fine goalscoring campaign, and believes he might thrive without Suarez. “I felt at times that Suarez bullied him a little bit,” he told The Anfield Wrap earlier this week. “I know with strikers there’s sometimes a little bit of a jealousy thing there, if someone’s scoring. I felt for him at times. I think he got the rough end of the stick with him and Suarez. I’m not saying they never got on, but they both wanted to be the main man scoring. Now there’s no doubt he’s the man.”
What Liverpool need to do, therefore, is to put Sturridge upfront and provide him with good support, both in terms of service and other goalscoring contributors. There will surely be no more 3-5-2, no midfield diamond – it will be Sturridge upfront, supported by two wide players and perhaps a number 10, depending on whether Liverpool play 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.
Therefore, all their attacking signings so far make sense.
Rickie Lambert is the Plan B Liverpool didn’t have last season, happy to play a relative understudy role, and while he’s not a pure target man, he gives Liverpool a different dimension.
Adam Lallana is the playmaker Liverpool didn’t quite have last season – able to play centrally or drifting inside from one flank, he can play in both the 4-3-3 or the 4-2-3-1. Coutinho was initially seen as a number ten, but arguably played better in a more withdrawn role in the 4-3-3, and dislikes playing from the wing.
Lazar Markovic, meanwhile, is an explosive but efficient wide player with a burst of speed – although he might be used as a supersub in his early days, particularly as his best Benfica contributions, in terms of goalscoring, often came from the bench.
Now, Rodgers has more tactical options at his disposal. What’s particularly interesting, too, is the fact Lallana and Lambert combined so well at Southampton. They work brilliantly together, not simply with Lallana supplying Lambert, but with Lambert dropping deep, bringing a defender out of position, and encouraging Lallana to get beyond him.
Part of Spurs’ problem last season, of course, was that the players were total strangers – even if they theoretically replaced Bale’s numbers, they inevitably lacked chemistry. Liverpool shouldn’t have that problem. Lambert and Lallana have played together for the last five years, and they know Sturridge, Sterling, Gerrard and Henderson from England duty. Rodgers values cohesion above anything else, and while it’s great to have individual talents, sometimes they can detract from the harmony of the side overall.
Next season will be difficult for Liverpool, and time will tell how the new signings settle. But while their transfer campaign can easily be compared to Spurs’ last summer, that failure wasn’t the signings themselves, but the management of the signings. Rodgers shouldn’t encounter that problem.
August 1st, 2014 by Michael Cox
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