Thursday 18 January 2018

Daniel Sturridge is not a lone striker - Five things we learned from Liverpool's win at Palace

Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring Liverpool's equalising goal
Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring Liverpool's equalising goal

Jonathan Liew

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge only convinces when he has a partner to work with - and four other things we learnt at Selhurst Park.

Sturridge is not convicing as a lone striker

Whither the 3-4-2-1 formation upon which Brendan Rodgers has staked so much? And more importantly, whither Daniel Sturridge? His first goal away from Anfield since the World Cup was certainly a welcome confidence boost as he continues his return to full sharpness, but it came after the introduction of Balotelli, just as his best work last season was done with Luis Suarez in tow. Sturridge is yet to show that he can produce his best form as a lone striker. Thing is, Rodgers has built this new system on the basis that he will.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Emre Can of Liverpool and Joel Ward of Crystal Palace battle for the ball during the FA Cup fifth round match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park on February 14, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

Emre Can is not a born defender

For a few halcyon weeks, Emre Can – originally signed as a defensive midfielder – appeared to be the answer to all Liverpool’s problems in defence. Deployed of late in a sort of free-jazz, “false No2” role, Can’s limitations were exposed for the first time in this match, when he failed to track the run of Dwight Gayle, who slipped through unnoticed to create the opening goal. It was not the only time he was caught out of position, and although Can is a fine player, he would surely admit himself that his best position is still in midfield at present.

Rodgers' problem-solving is improving

There is something of the government minister in Rodgers: any U-turn is completely out of the question, right until the U-turn takes place. At half-time, with Liverpool’s 3-4-2-1 clearly not working, Rodgers switched to a 3-1-4-2, with Mario Balotelli joining Sturridge up front. Faced with a double threat in their penalty area, Crystal Palace narrowed, allowing Sturridge to peel away and equalise on 48 minutes. The Rodgers of six months ago might have waited longer to alter things. But for the second straight game, his switch paid almost immediate dividends. Rodgers is getting better at problem-solving.

SOCCER Pala_39.jpg
Crystal Palace's Marouane Chamakh (left) looks on as Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho plays the ball during the FA Cup Fifth Round match at Selhurst Park, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday February 14, 2015. See PA story SOCCER Palace. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

1500 minutes of football too much for Coutinho

Philippe Coutinho needs a rest. Actually, he was OK here, certainly in the first half, when he got away a few shots and generally found himself at the centre of things. After the break, he was shunted out to the left, and was thereafter less useful. But this was his 17th consecutive start –1500 minutes of football in less than nine weeks. On one level, it is an indication of how crucial he has been to Liverpool’s recent revival. But Coutinho’s declining influence as the game went on is probably a sign: Rodgers should probably give him a break soon.

Gayle is a real force

Could Dwight Gayle be Crystal Palace's most improved player? Fair enough, the winger faded a little in the second half. But some of his work here - both offensive and defensive - will find its way onto many a scouting video in weeks to come, and only makes it more baffling how Neil Warnock so spectacularly failed to get the best out of him. His enterprise created Fraizer Campbell's goal, and he missed a good chance to put Palace 2-0 up before half-time. If there is one area for improvement, it is that: seizing the moment, putting in more 90-minute performances. But the talent is there. And he is only 24.

Read more: Brendan Rodgers: The character in this Liverpool team is immense

Read more: Sturridge and Lallana strike to seal Cup win for Liverpool

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