Will Raheem Sterling Miss out When Daniel Sturridge Makes Liverpool Return?

Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool celebrates as he scores their fifth goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at Britannia Stadium on January 12, 2014 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Daniel Sturridge returned to action for Liverpool in their 5-3 victory at Stoke on Sunday, immediately continuing his lethal partnership with Luis Suarez in attack.

Sturridge beautifully assisted Suarez five minutes after his introduction, before Suarez returned the favour for Sturridge to grab the fifth. A goal and an assist each in 25 minutes' work.

The duo have a staggering 32 Premier League goals between them this season—despite Suarez's five-match suspension at the start of the season and Sturridge's six weeks on the sidelines.

Sturridge replaced Philippe Coutinho at Stoke, leaving a rather lethal attacking trio of Suarez, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.


Sterling Profits From Sturridge Injury

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Raheem Sterling of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on December 26, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Sterling had been enjoying another superb performance for the Reds, winning the penalty and playing an influential role in most of their attacks.

The young Englishman has really shone in Strurridge's absence, despite a less than comfortable first appearance in the defeat at Hull in early December.


Raheem sterling has been amazing. He has really stepped it up again

— TheCoutinhoRole (@CallumPierce) January 13, 2014


Scoring against Norwich gave Sterling a healthy confidence boost and his performance against West Ham a few days later saw him looking sharp and effective, drifting inside from the right to combine with Suarez centrally with good effect.

The tough fixtures at Manchester City and Chelsea also saw the 19-year-old play well against top opposition. Indeed, the trio of Sterling, Suarez and Coutinho was particularly impressive in the narrow defeat at City.

Sterling was the player who profited from and effectively replaced Sturridge in the side over this past six weeks, so will he now be the one to miss out upon his return?

It would be extremely harsh of Brendan Rodgers to make such a decision, with Sterling deserving to retain his place on merit. The question though is whether a trio of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling is a little too attacking?

The next fixture for Liverpool is at home to Aston Villa and perhaps that will be a game where Rodgers can afford to play the trio together.

That would mean Coutinho will be the man to be replaced by Sturridge in the starting XI. The Brazilian is struggling to recreate his form of last spring at the moment.


Raheem Sterling made the most key passes for Liverpool today.

— LFC Fans Corner (@LFCFansCorner) January 12, 2014


Again at Stoke it was Coutinho's poor finishing that was highlighted, failing to convert for a goal that would have made it 3-1 shortly after Peter Crouch's goal. The Liverpool No. 10 had another three shots without scoring and has just two goals and two assists this season.


Sterling vs. Coutinho

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool (C) is challenged by Ryan Shawcross (L) and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at Britannia Stadium on January 12,
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Sterling and Coutinho have each played 16 Premier League games this season and their stats are pretty similar. Sterling has three goals, Coutinho has two. They each have two assists.

According to stats via Squawka, Coutinho's shot accuracy averages a relatively poor 45 percent, whereas Sterling's is slightly better at 53 percent.

Coutinho though has failed to convert a whopping 95 percent of his shots (Sterling's is 80 percent, Sturridge is 73 percent).

Coutinho is slightly ahead on chances created, with 28 compared to Sterling's 24, but perhaps not as far ahead as you may expect.

Surprisingly too, Sterling has a slightly better pass accuracy; 81 percent compared to Coutinho's 79 percent.

Taking into account those stats and subjective analysis of recent performances, it certainly seems Sterling is in better form at present.

Coutinho, let's not forget, is also a young player at just 21 years of age and thus he too is still developing. At this age he doesn't have to be a first-choice starter in every single game and once Rodgers has a fully fit squad it will allow him to rotate players like Coutinho and Sterling to aid their development.


Immediate Future

So Sterling will likely get the nod against Aston Villa, but the next fixture is the Merseyside derby—a match where Rodgers may opt to recall Coutinho as he seeks to control possession against Everton.

Alternatively, Rodgers could opt to play more on the counter-attack against Roberto Martinez's possession-oriented side despite being at home and thus use the pace of Sturridge and Sterling alongside Suarez to great effect.

What is most pleasing is that Liverpool are finally able to have such selection dilemmas, as competition for places is healthy and will allow youngsters such as Coutinho a small rest that they seemingly require ahead of the season run-in.