Friday 24 November 2017

Liverpool fans should feel blessed to have SAS fighting for cause

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge shoots to score his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire.
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge shoots to score his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match at Selhurst Park, London. Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

Paul Hayward

For all the spirit of Steven Gerrard and the coaching skill of Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool's calling card in a season of rebirth has been the gush of goals from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

All the club asked for here was nine or 10 more from the boots of the 'SAS' to keep their title hopes alive – but there was nothing they could do about an outrageous Crystal Palace fightback from 3-0 down.

The deadly duo did their best. In a second half that threatened to bring a real final-week goal chase to life, Sturridge moved to 21 league goals for the season and Suarez equalled the 38-game league record of 31, held by Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.

A title race that seemed to be fading into a final-furlong canter was thus enlivened by the two players who have most inspired (and benefited from) the stylistic upswing in Liverpool's play.

There has been much talk of late about non-possession football, defending in mobs and reading the last rites for tiki-taka.

The debate is overdue, and not necessarily unwelcome, because football needs plurality. But the two teams fighting out the Premier League title race still believe in superstar strikers and sweeping forward play. Sergio Aguero versus Suarez is one of football's finer gunfights.

With Manchester City regaining the initiative, it fell to Suarez and Sturridge to extend their mighty pre-match combined haul of 50 league goals – 30 for the Professional Footballer's Association and football writers' No 1, and the remainder for the young striker who could soon usurp Wayne Rooney as England's first-choice centre-forward.

The SAS joint haul is edging towards the 55 scored by Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley for Newcastle United in a 42-game season in 1993-'94.

Kevin Keegan's men missed out on the championship too: a fate that seems certain to envelop Rodgers' after last night's astonishing collapse.

Still, the exuberance that has taken Liverpool from seventh last year to a shot at a first league title since 1990 was evident at the start.

For them, the mission to return to Champions League action next term was inflated into an all-out title challenge, which could not succeed unless Suarez and Sturridge kept on scoring until the season's candle was fully extinguished.

Scrapbook memories of Liverpool 9 Crystal Palace 0, in September 1989, were amusing but not much use, with Palace the phoenix of this league campaign and the arch micro-manager, Tony Pulis, in their dugout.

Palace, of course, were safe coming into this fixture. A gala feel prevailed at Selhurst Park, with its Germanic noise levels and strong community feel.

Liverpool hoped to exploit the expected mid-table relaxation factor, but none was visible as Palace set out about their work with the usual zest.

Just to make it interesting, the away team's two best chances in the opening exchanges fell to defenders Mamadou Sakho and Glen Johnson.

When the breakthrough came it was from another set-piece and another non-attacker. As a Gerrard corner swung in, Joe Allen danced away from his marker and headed in at the far post.

By then Sturridge had taken a sharp lecture from Rodgers on keeping the ball in an attacking area and Suarez had hacked one over the bar with his left foot after a zippy run by Raheem Sterling down the left.

POSSESSION

At 37.9pc, Palace have posted the lowest average possession rate in the league and have not once passed the 50pc mark under Pulis. No Selhurst Park punter will care about that. Not this season anyway.

To illustrate the difference, Liverpool are the league's leading scorers away from home and moved to 99 in all here.

By his own exalted standards, Suarez's recent run of one goal in four outings had amounted to a lull. Given his work rate and susceptibility to ankle chops (real and imagined) the fear always was that he might run out of goals at the worst point in the cycle.

After his first-half swipe over the bar, he scythed the rebound from a Sturridge shot past the post.

But moments later Sturridge doubled Liverpool's lead with a deflected left-foot shot and had to remind himself to sprint back to the halfway line for the restart after starting a promising goal celebration.

Then Suarez took his turn, sending the Liverpool contingent delirious with a third. One of the most potent striker partnerships in Premier League history is finding the target right to the end.

Whether Liverpool can prevail depends partly on City, who are hardly shy around the net.

The Anfield alchemy deserves some kind of reward, but it needs Aston Villa's help in Manchester.

However it turns out, Liverpool's fans know how blessed they have been. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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