To misappropriate Oscar Wilde, if losing one of their key strikers to Real Madrid this summer was unfortunate for Liverpool, to lose the other to injury within three games of the season starting was even more so. Momentum can be a crucial element of top-level sport, and after a rip-roaring second half to last season, two wins in their first three matches this time around, including a dismemberment of Spurs, seemed to suggest more of the same. A thigh injury sustained by Daniel Sturridge on England duty, though, followed by a calf strain picked up when he was on the cusp of returning to training, have seen him sidelined since the end of August. In his absence, sadly for Liverpool supporters, Mario Balotelli’s Premier League goal drought has extended to 689 minutes. Sturridge will probably miss this weekend’s game against Chelsea, but with an international break around the corner, Liverpool fans will be hoping that his quinoa and bee pollen diet (as revealed this week to the Daily Mirror) should see him back in the Reds’ first team before too long. His return, which will surely bring with it a return to some sense of attacking urgency, cannot come too soon.
With the sale of Luis Suárez, Liverpool’s attacking structure was always likely to have to change. When Sturridge returns from injury, he is likely to do so as the focal point of the forward line, which should leave Adam Lallana to continue his bedding-in process. After joining for big money from Southampton in the summer, Lallana’s progress was initially impeded by injury, but he has started to find his feet, and chipped in with his first Liverpool goal against West Bromwich Albion a month back. His is a more intricate and positionally withdrawn playing style than that of Sturridge or Sterling (or, for that matter, Suárez), which can allow him to pick holes in defences which could otherwise sit back and close up the space in behind. He has suffered a little from the expectation of consistent excellence that comes with the territory when a player moves to Anfield, but should be afforded the time to develop his role, which can only be a good thing for the Reds.
Over a season or so which has seen the Liverpool central defensive mantle passed from Daniel Agger to Kolo Touré to Martin Skrtel to Mamadou Sakho, and more goals conceded last term than any team in the top eight bar Spurs, the summer saw Brendan Rodgers turn to Southampton again, and bring in Dejan Lovren for a significant sum of money to follow Lallana and Rickie Lambert into Anfield. The Croatian has been ever-present in the league so far this season, and initially seemed to have fitted in well. However, the Reds’ lapses at the back have not yet been curtailed, and Lovren has struggled against West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle in recent weeks. The impression is that he was bought for his leadership as much as anything else, but he is yet to establish a solid relationship with Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal, and former Anfield start Jason McAteer criticised him on talkSPORT this week for going into his shell. He has started to concede more fouls and win fewer tackles, and the pressure on him is only likely to increase with this weekend’s game against Chelsea. Needless to say, it is far too early to write his Anfield career off, but he will need to find his form again soon if his team are going to feature meaningfully in the Champions League shake-up come the end of the season.
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