Much praise has been lauded -and rightly so- of the attacking prowess of the Suarez and Sturridge partnership known affectionately as: S-A-S. But Saturdays match against a young, ambitious side that bears an eerie familiarity to Liverpool, displayed the dual edged nature of the strike partnership. While few could argue the benefits of having two gifted strikers playing up front, the weaknesses created at other parts of the pitch are becoming more and more prevalent.
Especially the hole in the center of the park.
Paul Lambert is recieving quite a bit of praise for outmaneuvering his managerial opponent in Brendan Rogers. While I agree he got the strategy right - especially in the first half - I don't think he was the beneficiary of any 'eureka' moment that identifies him as one of the next great managerial candidates to take over at the revolving doors of places like Real Madrid or Chelsea. Anyone with any experience in the game knows that when a team plays two central strikers, that creates a space hard to fill in other areas of the park.
Lambert therefore, only had to guess that Sturridge was fit to play, and given that, Rogers really only had 2 options: 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formations. Given the fact that the 3-5-2 is more difficult and requires more practice and is seen now as more of a luxury or novelty formation than one that title winners or Champions league contenders use on a day to day basis, and that Liverpool had most recently opted for the 4-4-2 when playing with two strikers, it was a safe bet to say Liverpool were going with the 4-4-2.
Much is being talked about in the papers and pages of the press regarding Gerrard's 'failures' in the first half. I think this is a very difficult ruler with which to judge the Liverpool captain. Was it really Gerrard's fault he was outnumbered 3-2 or in some cases 3-1 in midfield? Regardless of his age, can anyone REALLY be expected to survive such odds for long?
It didn't matter who was going to be the two central midfielders in that formation, Lambert's three were always going to overrun them. One only needed to recall the Liverpool vs Arsenal game last year to know that Gerrard and Lucas wouldn't get the job done. Gerrard and Henderson fared little better for all the young Henderson's verve and energy.
It was not the inclusion of Lucas - and after the Brazilian's injury, Allen - that turned the tide, but rather the change in formation. Though Lucas/Allen did well, it was their industry in the middle of the park that brought Liverpool back into the game. The need for movement and possession in the middle of the pitch is key to Liverpool's formation and success, and without it - regardless of all the glamour and flare of their SAS strikers - Liverpool suffer.
Liverpool are now beginning to feel the edge that cuts within as well as without of the SAS partnership.
The inclusion of Lucas/Allen in the second half, brought three players back into the midfield, setup a permanent defensive midfielder - instead of a defensive midfielder who must also attack then get back to defend against the breaks- and allowed play from the back of the field. Liverpool's attack is like a wave starting from the back in the depths then crashing forward.
The 4-4-2 is a system where 2 central strikers get the ball, usually in the air, hold up play, allowing the midfield and defense to get out of their backfield then play out to the wings, who play the ball in with a cross... so on and so forth. This is not the team Liverpool have built. Not to mention the fact that neither Sturridge nor Suarez are that sort of striker. There is one possible solution to this problem:
The SAS partnership has to develop further.
This is not as simple as it sounds. I think it would be interesting to see Suarez and Sturridge developing their partnership to such a degree that they rotate dropping back into that midfield #10 or 'false #9 position. This would allow both Suarez and Sturridge to remain on the pitch together, while attempting to fill the void in the midfield created by having two central midfield players.
As he grew more frustrated on the pitch in the first half, Suarez began to drop back deeper in order to collect the ball, and in so doing, created some of the only bright spots of the Liverpool attack in that first forty-five. If this was encouraged, but not at the expense of a single player (meaning it was not only Suarez dropping back every time) I think Liverpool could really benefit from this style of play.
This would mean the two strikers would have to clock more miles on the pitch, something I don't think is an issue for Suarez, but that Sturridge might really struggle with. It would also involve Sturridge's game developing to the next level. I think anyone can see he is growing as a player, getting his head up more, making smart passes and clever take on's but by dropping into that slot traditionally held by a central attacking midfielder, he would need to develop smart pressing, better linkup and hold up play, as well that deadly last pass. Coutinho has this ability - that almost preternatural skill to deliver that final cutting pass to a surging striker or winger - but I do not think Sturridge does. Yet.
While the goal scoring ability of the SAS partnership cannot be understated, and they seem to always have within their grasp the ability to turn any game in their favor, playing the two strikers has created other problems in other areas of the pitch that the current players are not capable of solving. Liverpool are not a Stoke City or West Ham sort of team. Yet when they revert to the 4-4-2 you see more balls flying in the air booted in the hopes they will find a red shirt than anyone should ever expect of this personnel.
Against high quality teams with exceptional midfields (Chelsea, Man City, Aresenal) Liverpool will not survive the 2 man central midfield formation, no matter which two are in. If it were the industrious Allen and Henderson, they will be run ragged by more experienced players. Lucas and Gerrard do not have the lungs or legs for it. And any combination of Lucas/Gerrard and Henderson/Allen will also likely suffer. Therefore either a striker will have to be sacrificed, or the strike partnership will need to develop, and each of the S's will have to adapt their style of play to fill that third midfield role that is so desperately missing.