Just How Good Could a Suarez, Coutinho, Sturridge Attack Be for Liverpool?
While the transfer window remains open, Liverpool will have to continue to suffer an amount of speculation about Luis Suarez's future, but the League Cup fixture against Notts County on Tuesday evening sees another game of his suspension quickly pass, leading to thoughts about his return.
Liverpool have won their opening two matches of the season and manager Brendan Rodgers has seen fit to keep the same starting XI for each, but presumably Suarez will slot straight back into the side when he is available.
That, in turn, leads to questions of what role he will fill and whose position he will take—and most excitingly, just how well could he combine with the in-form Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho?
Liverpool Without Suarez
Since Suarez was suspended following the match against Chelsea last season, Liverpool have played six matches, winning five and drawing once, scoring 12 goals in the process. Fair to say, despite Suarez's top-scoring exploits last term, the Reds have not missed him too much in terms of continuing to create chances to beat teams, largely thanks to Sturridge's arrival and Coutinho's creativity.
On the other side of the coin, the Reds have also kept five clean sheets from those six matches, conceding just once against Fulham, aiding calls for Suarez to have to earn his place back in the side rather than upsetting the established balance.
Suarez, though, is an irreplaceable part of the team in terms of his dribbling ability, work rate, tenacity and the goals he brings, all combined in one package. Rodgers' job, of course, will be to find a role for him in the team where his skills can still flourish without the team's balance being upset.
The Three Amigos
What does a club want from its attack?
Goals, of course, are a necessity. Given Liverpool's style of play—passing, probing, retention of the ball and patience in the final third—an element of creativity, vision and unpredictability is key also. Pace, good acceleration and power to overcome defenders one-on-one are also important, as is technical ability and intelligent, almost constant movement.
Those attributes would make for a prototype made-to-measure forward who had it all, but Liverpool can certainly claim plenty of each attribute by linking Coutinho, Suarez and Sturridge in attack.
The Brazilian brings eye-of-a-needle passing from 20 metres from goal or 20 metres inside his own half, able to find the runs of his forwards even before defenders have a chance to readjust to the direction the ball is travelling.
Sturridge's runs in behind defences are an important asset to the Reds, showcased by recent chances against the likes of Aston Villa, yet his movement is intelligent enough that he does not restrict himself to being an on the shoulder-type striker.
He will break into the channels between full-backs and centre-backs or drop deep to link play in the attacking midfield line. That leaves space in behind for others to exploit, and it is perhaps here that fans could see the combination of the three forwards in action.
Suarez dropping deep from his striker position, Suarez running into the gap left by the No. 15, and Coutinho with the vision and execution to find the pass which leads to a chance on goal.
The other possibility is to have Suarez starting in the No. 9 role, from which he will, like Sturridge, look to drop deep often and roam around the final third.
With Sturridge making a diagonal run from the right side of attack, through the middle spaces onto Coutinho's through passes, he will already be running onto the ball on his favoured left foot—increasing the chances he will get a shot away.
Despite that upside, Sturridge has excelled in the central striking position and it is likely that the option of using him from the right will be seen chiefly in moments of tactical opportunism from Rodgers, rather than as a starting position.
A Top-Four Attack?
Regardless of whether it's Suarez central and Sturridge right, or vice-versa, the combination play between the three relies on Coutinho playing the No. 10 role from the centre. He won't always be able to be there, such as against Stoke and Aston Villa already this season, but Liverpool are known to be looking for a transfer signing to play from the left to free the Brazilian into playing centrally more often.
From the left, in a true 4-3-3, Coutinho-Sturridge-Suarez is arguably up there with anything the Premier League has to offer.
In the Reds' more usual one-behind-three setup that has been seen since January, Coutinho will be closer to goal more often as the central playmaker, with some semblance of balance needed for the other flank in the attack.
How many goals can Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho score between them in the league this season?
Jordan Henderson, Iago Aspas and Raheem Sterling all bring their own attributes which can contribute significantly to aiding the tactical balance of the team against different types of opponents, but there can be little doubt about the star trio.
Keep Suarez happy, focused and creating chances, and Liverpool have definitely got a front third of the field to compare with the likes of the North London clubs.
In fact, there are plenty of clubs in the Champions League who would be jealous of a quartet of attackers which contained Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge.
That trio, should they go on to play the rest of the season in the first team, should be capable of 45 or 50 league goals between them‚ a great total and a foundation for Liverpool to base their challenge on.
What happens further back down the field will largely dictate whether the Reds actually can challenge for a top-four spot, but two clean sheets in two games augers well for the rest of the season despite a perceived lack of key additions in those areas of the pitch.
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