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Ronnie Whelan: No striker, no hope for Liverpool

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Liverpool's Mario Balotelli reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford

Liverpool's Mario Balotelli reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford

Liverpool's Mario Balotelli reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against Manchester United at Old Trafford

BRENDAN Rodgers must do whatever it takes to find a striker in the January transfer window or Liverpool will end the season in mid-table.

It sounds like an obvious thing to say but when you trawl back through the years at Anfield, there have been very few times like this when a Liverpool manager didn't have some serious talent up front to lean on.

Even in the barren spell from the 90s up to Rafa Benitez, we had Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Fernando Torres when he was in his pomp.

Luis Suarez followed in the grand tradition and nobody better illustrates how a team can flourish well above it's ability if someone can put the ball in the net more than 20 times a season.

That's what struck me forcibly about the game at Old Trafford yesterday. Liverpool played Manchester United off the pitch more than once, had a host of great chances but Brendan Rodgers had to play Raheem Sterling in the lead striker's role and he is no natural finisher.

I saw some statistics during the week which pointed out that between them, Suarez and Sturridge had nearly 30 goals notched up at this stage last season.

Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Sturridge have got two so far. There, in a nutshell, is the reason Rodgers is in such trouble.

Sterling shouldered the lead role yesterday and he had some gold-minted opportunities which he didn't convert.

Some of those chances were too good to miss and I'm sure Rodgers must have been seething with frustration because his team actually played quite well, maybe even well enough to win if Sterling had scored early on.

David de Gea was inspired once again and it says a lot that the Manchester United goalkeeper got the Man of the Match award despite the fact that his team won 3-0.

Given the fact that Manchester United don't really have a defence and haven't had one for two or three seasons, De Gea is undoubtedly Louis van Gaal's most important player and the main reason why he is now just five points behind Manchester City in third place.

As well as De Gea, Van Gaal has two other reasons why he is going in the opposite direction from Rodgers - Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney.

Alex Ferguson won his last title on their backs a few years ago and like Van Gaal, his defence was all over the place for most of the season.

But Van Persie was amazing after surprising everyone with his switch from Arsenal and Rooney chipped in with another big goal haul. Goals hide a multitude.

Liverpool deserved to score in this one and deserved to get something out of it. They started the game with great pace and energy and were the better team for long spells.

But when you have someone like van Persie on the pitch and in the form he seems to be in at the moment, one mistake and you're in trouble.

Unfortunately, the fact that it was Dejan Lovren who make the mistake was all too predictable. Of all Rodgers summer signings, he was the one who needed to bring stability to the team and he has done the opposite.

I was doing the Liverpool TV phone in after the game and I must say, on the way to the stadium, my instinct was that I would be dealing with some very angry fans when it was over.

Bad as Manchester United have been, they've been winning and they have two serious goal machines to rely on. I thought it could be a bad day for Rodgers.

Oddly enough, despite the scoreline, the response was much more muted than I thought it would be.

Like me, many saw reasons to be happy about the way Liverpool played and like me, everyone pointed out the glaring lack of attacking talent at the club.

TALENT

Nobody was calling for the manager's head and I think most Liverpool supporters expect Rodgers to be in charge when the season ends.

After that? Who knows. An awful lot could hinge on a bit of luck in the transfer market in a few weeks. Top quality strikers don't grow on trees.

But there is the sense that anything would be better than Mario Balotelli until Sturridge is able to play some part in this campaign.

Rodgers has been here before. Two seasons ago he dumped Andy Carroll, missed out on Clint Dempsey at the last minute and turned to the January market in desperation. He got Sturridge and a flood of goals.

It now seems clear that he cannot hope for any help from his expensive flops. Adam Lallana didn't finish the game yesterday and looked worn out. I'm not sure why he would be but maybe the fact that he was subbed 17 times for Southampton last season shows that it is not unusual. Balotelli should have scored twice but didn't.

His overall attitude still stinks and I would still advise Rodgers to get him out of the club in the New Year, whether he finds someone else or not.

I said earlier that I expect Rodgers to be in control when the curtain falls on the season but I wouldn't want to be wagering the house on it. If he is part of a committee structure at Anfield, they can always vote him off.

Two banana skins loom large which could be a problem. Bournemouth will be very, very tricky in the Capitol One Cup and then, of all teams, Wimbledon in the FA Cup. Lose either one of them and all bets are off.


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