5 Forwards Who Would Work Well with Luis Suarez at Liverpool
Despite what has been considered in some quarters an uneven or unimpressive start, Liverpool have shown great consistency over the past few months in being hard to beat, defending well and picking up points away from home.
Piece by piece, the build-up phase and attacking are also coming together for the team, but further additions are certainly needed.
Using an under-performing £20 million winger, a left-back or an expensive free transfer as part of the attack shows how much work Brendan Rodgers still has to do, but it's not a simple matter of choosing any available forward and expecting them to fit in well.
Nor is it about simply bringing in a "goalscorer".
Liverpool already have one—Luis Suarez has hit 13 goals this season in all competitions and is excelling in a false nine role as the main centre-forward.
Rodgers and his scouting team therefore need to identify the player, or players, who can fit in with the Uruguayan and help him play even better, as well as provide the quality, invention and goals in the attacking third to propel the side further up the league table.
Suarez needs to stay central to the Reds' attack; the players who come in need to complement him by making runs from wide areas into the central zones he vacates. At least one of these is required as a priority before any out-and-out strikers are considered.
Here are five forwards who could do the job: two left-footed, right-sided forwards; a further two complete opposites and one central attacker who can play either as a lone front man or a more withdrawn second striker, for those occasions when the manager switches formation.
Arsenal's top scorer isn't even a regular this season.
Theo Walcott is into double figures for the Gunners from just 17 appearances—and nine of those appearances have come as a substitute.
Walcott plays from the right more often than not for Arsenal, though he has made it known he wishes to figure more centrally.
For Liverpool, Walcott could be an ideal man to play on the left side of the attack.
Walcott is frequently maligned for his crossing (he completed 13 percent of his 134 attempted crosses last season, compared to, e.g., Stewart Downing's 23 percent of 199 attempts). However, playing from the left as an inside forward would largely negate the need for the English forward to operate like a winger.
Walcott would have full licence and inclination to make his runs off the ball into the central areas vacated by the ever-roaming Suarez.
There are other areas where he would benefit the Reds too; his pace and ability to beat a man (103 dribbles last season with 34 percent success rate, 26 dribbles this year with 50 percent success) are valuable traits which Liverpool too often lack in the final third, especially with Suarez taken out of the equation.
Walcott has had a good grounding in possession-based football at Arsenal so would have no problem with Rodgers' style of play. He is also an instinctive and fast-thinking player, much like Suarez.
The two would combine to great effect much of the time, but perhaps this partnership might hit the odd snag as both players can be too individualistic at times.
Iker Muniain would be a simply superb signing, but he also would likely have to a) wait until summer and b) be attracted to the club ahead of plenty of interest from other teams.
The Athletic Bilbao forward will still have another two years to run on his contract as of this summer, so he will not come cheap either.
The one saving grace for a potential move to Liverpool is that given that his usual position is on the left of the attack (until this season; more on that in a moment), there are a few other top players who could fill the same position.
James Rodriguez, Neymar and, erm, Cristiano Ronaldo could all be potential targets for other top teams looking to strengthen this particular area.
Muniain, then. He's a very different prospect to Walcott, much more of a creator than a finisher at present, though he certainly has the talent to improve this significantly in future seasons.
What Iker brings to the side is terrific talent on the ball, an ability to dribble past multiple players with his close control and blinding acceleration, and the composure and vision to pick a pass at the end of it.
Often we see precociously talented players on the ball struggle with the end product, but Muniain records more than four successful passes out of every five he makes in the league—comparable to or better than the likes of Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, Jose Enrique, Fabio Borini and Luis Suarez.
Muniain has yet to score this season for Bilbao, who are struggling to match last season's success, though he has claimed an assist.
His role has been altered this season to a more central role, where he dominates the play and loves to pick up the ball deep before driving towards goal. He will doubtless end up a central player in the long term, but for now this love of roving centrally would benefit Liverpool when he plays from the left, as long as he can make the runs in behind Suarez as well as deeper to collect possession.
Muniain's ability to link well with Suarez should not be debated; the two are hugely intelligent footballers and the Spaniard's vision and ability to execute would see Suarez even more often in good goalscoring areas.
The one proviso here might be that Liverpool would still need to find a goalscoring attacker for the opposite side, but Muniain would provide a massive step up in quality, which the side also needs.
This was fine under Andre Villas-Boas where he had licence to play as a forward, cut inside and be involved in the penalty area regularly. Later, under Di Matteo and on the infrequent chances he was picked to play, Sturridge needed to stay wider and was less of a wide forward than merely a wide attacker.
The Chelsea forward scored a respectable 11 league goals last season and provided three assists over the course of the campaign.
Break it down, though, and you can clearly see his impact split into two halves of the season.
From August to the end of January, Sturridge played 1,295 minutes (16 starts, full 90 minutes on eight occasions). He scored nine goals from 53 shots, an average of 3.1 shots per game. He also had 11 "clear cut" chances on goal.
From February to the season's end (Villas-Boas left on March 4), he featured for 973 minutes (12 starts, five full 90s) and scored just twice. Those goals came from 40 efforts, still an average of 3.1 shots per game—but crucially he only managed to be in position to receive five clear cut chances.
Many of his efforts over the final part of the season came from the right-sided player cutting in on his left foot and trying to shoot from distance, rather than being played into a good position in or near the area.
Sturridge's conversion rate dropped to 8 percent over the latter part of the season as opposed to 20 percent in the first half of the season.
Quite clearly he is a player who can finish off good chances. Played regularly in an advanced role, acting as a forward instead of a wide player, Sturridge would certainly be capable of hitting 15 for the season.
Again, like with Walcott, the issue would be to help the player understand that playing from the right but acting on the ball centrally is more important than being written down as the "centre-forward" on team sheets.
Back from the possible January targets now and on to one for the summer. It was really very surprising that following River Plate's semi-recent demise there were not more teams in line to sign Erik Lamela.
The hugely talented Argentine attacking midfielder moved to AS Roma and has been a big success this season, excelling on the right side of the front line.
A fine dribbler, quick, with a lovely left foot and, as evidenced this season, an eye for goal—he is everything Liverpool could want for the right side of their attack.
He's also just 20 years old, and would cost a fortune—his move to Roma eighteen months ago cost around €20 million. He would very much be worth it though, and it's not as though Liverpool haven't splashed out similar fees recently.
Lamela's performance levels are such that other clubs would certainly be interested if he were to become available, but Liverpool could make a good case if they managed a top four spot this season—not as outlandish a claim as some would have you believe. Roma themselves are in fifth place in Serie A, outside of the Champions League spots.
The right-sided forward has scored eight goals in 11 starts in the league this season. Half of those goals have been the opening strike in the match. From October to mid-November, Lamela embarked on a spree of seven in just six matches. He may not keep up that level of scoring for the entire season, but he has clearly shown his potential to be a double-figures goalscorer.
Elsewhere Lamela ranks in the top six in Serie A for key passes (2.3 per game) and dribbles (2.9 per game), showing his importance in the final third.
He would be a wonderful addition to the squad and would provide both ammunition and attacking foil for Luis Suarez.
Siem De Jong
Now on to the more central attacker and Ajax's Siem de Jong.
Previously used more as an attacking midfielder, 2011-12 saw de Jong as Ajax's furthest forward striker, though he had ample licence to drift deeper and allow his wide forwards to make use of the space behind him—much like Luis Suarez does for Liverpool now.
He ended the campaign with eight goals in his final 10 league matches, totalling 13 for the season overall.
This year the 23-year-old has fluctuated between the two roles, scoring six goals from 16 league games so far (plus a further three in the Champions League) and claiming four assists.
Siem de Jong is not the quickest forward Liverpool might find, certainly not compared to the other names on this list, but he is a very technical footballer and has great movement when not in possession. He would give Brendan Rodgers multiple options in the starting lineup and would also be expected to cost significantly less than the other non-English players.
While some might be looking for Liverpool to sign full-on strikers (which might yet be the case), the wiser course of action could be to sign a more versatile, well-rounded forward who can score goals from any area and let Suarez remain in his best position.
Suarez and de Jong would prove a good double act but, importantly, de Jong would also be more than able to play the central role by himself if Suarez was either pushed wide or unavailable.
statistical data from EPLindex.com, WhoScored.com and TransferMarkt.co.uk