Three reasons why Liverpool are struggling this season
Harry Reardon considers three reasons why Liverpool are yet to match up to last season's performances
The unmanaged disbanding of the SAS
The phrase bandied about a lot around Anfield during the summer and the early stages of this season was ‘doing a Tottenham’. Like the North Londoners in 2013, Liverpool went into the close season expecting their talisman to leave, and looking to plan accordingly. The early signs of the new campaign appeared promising, with a symbolic dismantling of Spurs at White Hart Lane a particular highlight. But the momentum of last season has not been sustained. Realistically, the departure of Luis Suárez, like that of Gareth Bale, was always going to leave a hole, but it seems on reflection that Liverpool then neither stuck nor twisted. With the Reds having enjoyed such success last season with a well-drilled playing style and clearly defined roles, Plan A surely had to be finding a replacement striker who, even if not on the same level as the Uruguayan in terms of ability, would have slotted into the same tactical place. It is difficult to see why that would not have been doable – they must have suspected that Suárez might leave for at least six months or a year beforehand, so why not look to train up someone like Fabio Borini in advance? If not, however, Plan B would have been a new icon, someone else to build a different type of team around. That seems to have been the path taken – but so far, perhaps unsurprisingly, to little effect. Mario Balotelli is many things, a lot of them good, but one thing that he is not is the cornerstone of a dynasty.
Injury to Sturridge and an over-reliance on Sterling
Perhaps there would not be quite so much wringing of hands, though, had Daniel Sturridge not succumbed so early to injury. The England striker scored on the opening day of the season, as well as putting in a fine performance against Spurs, but he has not featured for his club since that game after suffering a thigh strain, and then picking up a calf problem on his return to training. From an established, fluid front three of Suárez, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, therefore, Brendan Rodgers has found himself having to call on the entirely different talents of Mario Balotelli and Adam Lallana, while Sterling cannot continue to carry the torch. The Englishman is still in his teens, but has already this season played more minutes for Liverpool than any outfield player except for Dejan Lovren and Steven Gerrard, in practically every position across the front line. Were the Reds to be riding the crest of a wave as they were last season, that might have little effect. With the team struggling, though, and so obviously looking towards Sterling for inspiration, such a workload has inevitably taken both a mental and physical toll.
The fixture list is catching up with them
It is not just Raheem Sterling who will be starting to feel the strain. The issue of fixture congestion is most associated with, and for that matter accentuated by, the Europa League, which seems to involve so much slog for so little reward that some teams end up actively disengaging with it. But the true problem is not that competition in itself, as Liverpool seem to be finding. European participation in whatever form involves a stretching of resources and a disruption of plans. For teams which can afford to build up squad depth and have the experience of structuring their training regimes around regular midweek matches, the problem is manageable. But Liverpool have been out of the Champions League for four seasons, and have only lightly dabbled in the Europa League during that period, including getting knocked out at the last 32 stage in Brendan Rodgers’s only previous European excursion. As the club they are now under Rodgers, they are only really this season having to get used to fighting on a number of fronts. For many different reasons, that is a far from easy proposition.