Analysing the Genius of Liverpool's Suarez-Sturridge-Sterling Combination

Jonathan Wilson@@jonawilsFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2014

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28:  Daniel Sturridge (C) of Liverpool is congratulated by teammates Luis Suarez (2nd L), Raheem Sterling (L) and  after scoring his team's third goal Aly Cissokho during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on January 28, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Liverpool have become a team the neutral wants to watch: The mouth waters at the thought of the cunning of Luis Suarez, the directness of Daniel Sturridge and the speed of Raheem Sterling.

There is no doubt what the strength of Liverpool has been this season: It's the front three, whose pace and intelligence have meant that their side has scored five more goals than any other side in the Premier League (although Manchester City, second on that list, have played two games fewer).

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on March 16, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex L
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Even if Liverpool don't go on to win the league or that trident is broken up, this season will live on in the collective memory because this is a side that attacks with such verve that to witness it is to feel a visceral thrill.

Yet perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the front three is the fact that Brendan Rodgers can deploy them in varying configurations.

The basic line-up is for Sturridge to be central, Suarez to float off him to one side and Sterling take up a wide position on the other, but there are options, and that's what makes Liverpool so devastating. 

Rodgers has a trio of players who are mutually complementary, who understand each other's games sufficiently to have a sense of where they might be making runs, and yet are flexible enough to take up different roles to best exploit the opponent's weaknesses.

Against Manchester United on Sunday, for instance, Sturridge and Suarez were played as a front two, something that immediately placed pressure on United's two centre-backs, Phil Jones and Nemanja Vidic.

Tighe B/R

Both had to defend against a direct opponent, rather than one going to the man and the other covering behind as would be the case against a lone forward.

Moreover, both can be slow on the turn, so they couldn't afford to allow their opponents a run into space behind them. That clumsiness led to the second and third penalties. Even though Sturridge dived for the third one, Vidic was making a desperate lunging challenge because he'd been caught out.

As a result of that fear of leaving space behind them, both Vidic and Jones dropped deep, as Rodgers had predicted they would. He took advantage by positioning Sterling in a central position, knowing he would have space to run into, a flaw exacerbated by the fact that United have no orthodox holder to sit deep and protect the back four unless Jones is used as a midfielder.

"I just felt that the Manchester United centre-halves drop off so we could exploit the space in front of that with Raheem's speed," Rodgers explained in the post-match press conference.

"We felt in this game that because of the nature of Manchester United being at home they'd have to attack and that would allow us to get in round the back of their midfield."

In the previous game against Southampton, Rodgers had left Sterling out altogether, using Philippe Coutinho at the front of a midfield diamond.

Tighe B/R

Again Rodgers's thinking was clear: "We felt we could play through them with Philippe and then bring Raheem on when the game opens up." The plan worked perfectly.

Before that, at home to Swansea, Sterling played on the left with Suarez in an inside-right role. The match before that, away at FulhamSterling was on the right with Suarez in an inside-left role.

Tighe B/R

In both of those games, Coutinho also played, which perhaps suggests why Liverpool looked so defensively vulnerable, winning 3-2 against Fulham and 4-3 against Swansea.

The league match before that was the 5-1 home win against Arsenal, when Rodgers opted for a 4-3-2-1 with Sterling and Suarez both narrow behind Sturridge.

Five games. Five different combinations. Eighteen goals.

It won't always work, of course, and it's rare that all three will be simultaneously in the sort of form they are now, but for the moment, the three are ripping teams apart and, even for those who aren't Liverpool fans, it's brilliant to watch.


All quotes were obtained first-hand.