Liverpool thriving in Suarez's absence

Posted by Alistair Tweedale, WhoScored.com

Sturridge_Daniel 130819 [576x324] - CopyAllsportDaniel Sturridge: Two goals from just seven shots this season.

Two games and two 1-0 wins into the season and Liverpool are sitting pretty in the Premier League table, just a point behind Chelsea and one of only two teams to have maintained a 100% record so far. Granted, there were hairy moments when their slim leads over Stoke and then Aston Villa looked somewhat unstable, but the table does not profess any such difficulties. Nor, though, does it say that they hold such a loft position without having been able to call on the services of Luis Suarez.

The Uruguayan continues to serve the remainder of his 10-match ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season, but for a good time this summer, it looked more than likely that Liverpool would have had to make do without him for even longer. Until recently it seemed Suarez would be anywhere but Anfield by the end of the transfer window, but Brendan Rodgers has persuaded him to stay and in a few weeks time he'll be donning the red of Liverpool once again.

- Rodgers: Confidence key for Sturridge

Of course Liverpool's solid start to the season does not mean they do not need, or could even make do without Suarez for a sustained period of time. To assume so would be highly rudimentary and far from the truth. But, consecutive wins this season follow on from an impressive end to 2012/13 - also without their top scorer - and further hints that the strength-in-depth at the Merseyside club is such that life without Suarez would not have been as bad as many had first feared.

Liverpool ended last season with a win, a draw and then two more wins in the four games that Suarez missed, meaning that - with their two wins this season - they have gained 16 points from a possible 24 in their last six Premier League games. Not once in Suarez's whole time at Anfield have they enjoyed such a successful run in the league. In fact, you have to go back to the final six matches of the 2008/09 season to find the last time Liverpool had such a fruitful run of matches. They ended that campaign second to Manchester United and haven't finished in the top four since.

Their recent revival has built optimism amongst fans to such an extent that talk of a top four finish is growing and, realistically, a challenge for a Champions League spot shouldn't be too far beyond them. A big part of all this is the form of Daniel Sturridge. Having joined from Chelsea in January, the England forward has been an instant hit on Merseyside, netting 10 goals in 14 appearances last term and two more in two games already this season. Only Christian Benteke (17) and Robin van Persie (14) have scored more Premier League goals in 2013 than Sturridge, and he is quickly becoming a fans favourite at Anfield as a result.

Playing ahead of another impressive signing and in no small part down to the creativity of Philippe Coutinho, Sturridge has scored five of Liverpool's last six goals, winning them a total of seven points in the last four games with his goals alone. This season is, of course, too small a sample to take too much from, but that he has netted two goals from just seven shots (28.6% conversion) bodes well for a side that had more shots last season than any other side in Europe's top five leagues (19.4 per game, 739 in total) yet could only finish seventh in the Premier League. Whilst Suarez would tend to create plenty of chances for himself and wasn't the most effective in front of goal - he had both the most shots (187) and the most shots off target (71) in the Premier League - Sturridge may just be the more clinical goalscorer that the side were previously lacking.

When the Uruguayan is back from suspension, the biggest problem for Rodgers will be fitting all of his creative muscle into a starting XI. Iago Aspas has done well since his summer arrival from Celta Vigo, creating the joint most chances in the Liverpool squad (six), including the one for Sturridge's winner against Stoke on the opening day of the season. Coutinho looks like he may be on the way to fulfilling the huge potential that was attributed to him years ago at Inter Milan. He certainly has a creative mind, able to unlock many a defence, and having played more accurate through balls than any other player this season (three) and the most per game last season (0.8), he certainly isn't going to be deprived of a starting berth upon Suarez's return.

Jordan Henderson looks the most dispensable of this season's starters, but even so, he will provide a defensive element to the team that Suarez simply will not, and it does not seem as though a like-for-like swap would be viable, particularly against the bigger clubs. Of course, Suarez is a brilliant footballer, unlucky to miss out on Player of the Year awards last season, and he will soon slot back into the Liverpool lineup. For the time being, though, Liverpool are not merely coping in his absence, they are thriving.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.