YOU might have heard, but The Reds are mustard. At scoring, at least. In 2016 they are wiping the floor with the opposition at kicking the ball in the goal, with four more on Saturday taking the yearly total up to a nice round 50.
Most Premier League goals in 2016:
Man City (45)
West Ham (42) pic.twitter.com/ixfpy8IthL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 10, 2016
Saturday was the eighth time in 2016 that Liverpool have scored three goals or more in the league. Daniel Sturridge might have started to worry that, before the weekend, he only started two of these games, a 6-0 rout of a sorry Aston Villa, and four at home to Stoke. The big numbers against the better sides, three and four against Arsenal, three at home to Manchester City, came when he wasn’t in the starting 11.
Saturday changed all that. Four goals against the champions, in a display that could have resulted in many more. We’ve seen some good individual performances from Sturridge under Jürgen Klopp in the league, Bournemouth away springs to mind, but is this the first time he’s thrived as part of an attacking unit?
I think the change in formation this year has helped him. In a 4-2-3-1 he often looked isolated, and tended to drop deep looking for the ball, leaving us short up front. Whilst he had done well under Brendan Rodgers in that formation, in Luis Suarez’s absence, perhaps he is a different player now? One less willing to rely on his pace in behind.
He seems much happier in a front three, with men to work with and who can replace him more easily when he wanders. It’s a tight front three too. Much of our width is coming from our full backs enabling our midfield and attack to play much narrower, which suits those playing and allows for more combination play.
Rory Fitzgerald sent me these graphics to demonstrate just how wide and high our full backs were at the weekend. Although he was obviously in a tougher game, it is remarkable to see how much wider James Milner is touching the ball than Luke Shaw, a left footed player and a natural full back. Milner has become far more confident in his starting positions than the dark days of Burnley away, perfectly evident in where he receives the ball for our opening goal.
Nathaniel Clyne is also receiving the ball wider and further up than Antonia Valencia, despite the latter being a converted winger. The positioning of both our full backs helps everyone, from Jordan Henderson having options, to our attacking midfielders having less distance to cover than the extraordinary amount they are already doing.
However, I think it is the front three it helps the most. By not having to worry too much about having to stretch the play they can act as three genuine forwards, with all three getting shots on target directly in front of goal against Leicester.
How they interchanged must have pleased Klopp greatly, and also possibly produced a wry smile from the manager at the fuss made of Sturridge’s starting position at Burnley. He was left of Roberto Firmino after a great run to take defenders away allows the Brazilian space to cut in. He was right of Sadio Mane to slot him in brilliantly for Liverpool’s second. He’s deep and right to start the move that leads to Adam Lallana’s third goal. Fluid football, as the manager said.
If you look at Sturridge’s touches in the game he’s popping up all over the place, quite often in that slightly deeper position on the right hand side we are told he doesn’t want to play in. He still managed five touches in the opposition box, including three shots on target.
The more I think about it, the more I think being asked to play right is a psychological thing for Sturridge. It could be a throwback to his Chelsea and Manchester City days, when he was often asked to play genuinely wide as he couldn’t get in the team up front. He might see being asked to play there as a sign of a manager not rating him.
There is no real reason why Sturridge couldn’t have had a similar impact to Mane on Saturday from the right. Mane didn’t get many chances to show his explosive pace until late in the game. Sturridge could have had a similar game, cutting in on his stronger left foot and getting into the box as Mane did. Incidentally, Mane touched the ball in the box exactly the same number of times as Sturridge did.
I think Sturridge feels uncomfortable there because of past experiences and connotations of being asked to play there, rather than what is being asked of him by the current manager.
But if it doesn’t really matter, we might as well start him up top, if it makes him happier. What is more important for him is that it is becoming harder to argue that we play better as an attacking force without him. Despite him not getting a goal it is a statement league performance, with Sturridge at the heart of it.
Now what do we do on Friday? Nice problem to have.
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