Can Raheem Sterling Fill The Luis Suarez Void?
Having snapped up Barcelona’s £75m offer for the mandible-enthusiast Luis Suarez, many experts and commentators have remarked that there is a 31-goal and £75m worth of football talent gap in the Liverpool front line.
It’s a fair assumption to make; Suarez is the Players Player and Football Writers Player of the Year, he won the European Golden Boot, he scored 31 Premier League goals last year, despite missing the first two months of the season. At times, he was impossible to defend against, especially in the period from October through to March.
Any team would miss a talent as rare and precocious as that and even though Barcelona shelled out £75m on the Uruguayan, if he can recapture that form at the focal point of a Barcelona attack including Neymar and Messi, it will be money well spent.
But where does that leave Liverpool?
Well the bookmakers have clearly made their own feelings on the matter quite clear. The Reds are now 10/1 for the title with many bookmakers, despite finishing 2nd last year. In contrast, Manchester United (who finished 7th last season) are 9/2.
Now as good as the signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw are for United, there must be something else that has made the bookies think United are more than twice as likely to be in the Championship race than Liverpool and that, of course, is the Suarez factor.
Can Liverpool, cope without Suarez?
Well, at the start of the 2013-2014 season they played their first five league games and one League Cup game without Suarez due to the Uruguayan being suspended for, with a sense of déjà vu, biting an opponent.
The Reds return from those games? 10 points out of 15 and a victory over Manchester United. Indeed when Suarez returned to action against United on Wednesday 25th September in the Capital One cup, Liverpool lost the game.
It is also worth noting that at the end of last season, Suarez performances tailed off noticeably from the end of March onwards.
In the final six games of the season, Suarez contribution was generally poor for Liverpool. He notched two goals in those six games and his general play in these games was not the best. He seemed lethargic, off the pace of the game and at times, lacking in fitness.
Indeed, over the last few games of the season, and most notably against Manchester City at Anfield on 12th April, it was the performances of Coutinho and Raheem Sterling that caught the eye most obviously.
That is not to say that Suarez influence on the team has been radically overstated, but it does highlight the fact that this is a Liverpool team that can and did cope either without Suarez playing at all (as at the start of the season) or when the player was on one of his rare lapses in form (as at the end of the season).
Now take the basis of that team minus Suarez and then add to that attacking talents such as the exciting Lazar Markovic and England midfielder Adam Lallana. Furthermore, add in another attacking option in the powerful and hugely effective Rickie Lambert. They’ve also snapped up Divock Origi for £10m, who kept Romelu Lukaku out of the Belgium side this summer, one for the future as he will spend this season out on loan at Lille. Emre Can, a tall and elegant midfield schemer has also arrived from Bayer Leverkusen.
Then of course, there is the added defensive stability of signing Dejan Lovren, a talented defender who has plenty of Premier League and Champions League experience from his spells with Lyon and Southampton.
And there is every indication that Brendan Rodgers is still on the look out for one, or maybe even two more signings and some of the names mentioned, such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Arturo Vidal, are certainly enough to whet the appetite of many Liverpool fans.
Balanced out, so far Liverpool have a net spend of £13.55m over the summer so far, and while they have lost Suarez, they have radically improved the depth of their squad in key areas, with more players likely to follow soon too.
That’s not all, the hugely talented Jordon Ibe is tipped to make a big impact this season, Suso and Tiago Ilori have both returned from a successful loan spell in Spanish football. Plus Portuguese midfielder Joao Carlos Teixeira is rated as an outstanding prospect by many.
Yet the real ray of hope for Liverpool fans concerned about the loss of Suarez has been the form of Raheem Sterling, especially since the turn of the year.
Until that point, Sterling showed promise but not enough production. He’d often get into great positions after performing some magical skill, but then fail to produce a telling cross or a worthwhile shot on goal.
However, since the spring of 2014, Sterling’s form for club and country has been immense. He was arguably the only bright point of England’s 2014 World Cup campaign and his form for Liverpool at the end of the season was sensational and he has continued in a similar vein into pre-season too.
Let’s make it quite clear, Sterling is no Suarez, but he has the potential to be just as influential for Liverpool over the coming seasons as he grows and matures as a player. He is, after all, only 19 years old.
Liverpool still need to address some key issues. Several players who seem surplus to requirements (Pepe Reina, Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger, Oussama Assaidi, Sebastien Coates and Fabio Borini) may well leave and it looks likely that Glen Johnson’s time at the club will come to an end in the summer of 2015. It’s no secret the club have been searching for players in both full-back positions. Yet with Jose Enrique returning from injury, Jack Robinson from loan and the emerging Jon Flanagan, that need isn’t so pressing.
Where Liverpool may need additional firepower is up front, especially if Borini does leave for Sunderland as mooted in the press. If that is the case, then a move for a quality striker looks all the more likely, though a suggested move for Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema looks wholly optimistic to put it mildly.
The departure of a player of Suarez calibre would hit any team hard, but Liverpool have invested that money wisely so far. A couple of more signings, the sale of fringe players and a tweak of the system Rodgers likes to play and Liverpool may not feel Suarez loss so acutely.
Provided Sterling can continue to produce the level of performance he has been doing for the past 6 months or more.