By the high standards set by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge earlier in the season, Liverpool’s “SAS” are on somewhat of a lull in form right now, but other players are stepping up to the mark in the club’s Premier League title run-in.
This is by no means a criticism of probably Liverpool’s best performers over the course of the whole season, and Suarez scored his last goal just over two weeks ago, superbly finishing from an acute angle past Hugo Lloris en route to sinking Tottenham 4-0 at Anfield.
Likewise, it was just four games ago that Sturridge netted his last goal—an important one too as Liverpool held their nerve for a 2-1 victory at home to Sunderland.
On Sunday though, against Manchester City, both forwards looked an unusual off-colour.
Not Their Usual Selves
Both found it hard to retain possession, first and second touches were frequently poor and they lacked the edge to their game which has seen them become the Premier League’s most prolific strike partnership.
Suarez cast a frustrated figure against City’s defenders, winning just 25 percent of duels and earning a Squawka performance score of -15.
Likewise, Sturridge looked hungry, but discontented before he was withdrawn due to injury in the 66th minute, earning a Squawka performance score of -17, winning just 30 percent of duels.
Perhaps it is slightly unfair to attribute the phrase “dip in form” to either. After all, with 52 goals between them this season, Suarez and Sturridge were doubtlessly targeted by City’s resolute defence.
It was the sort of off-day from both attackers that would provoke the likes of Gus Poyet, who recently claimed, as per Luke Edwards of The Telegraph, Liverpool would be mid-table without Suarez:
He is showing every time that he is on the pitch that it is not about contracts or money with him. It is not about anything; it is just about beating you and winning the game. He wants to play for Liverpool as much as he wants to play for Uruguay. Without Suarez they would be mid-table.
Poyet's words should probably be taken as a compliment to his fellow Uruguayan, rather than a dig at Liverpool. But Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen singled out Suarez and Sturridge’s contributions as the reason why the Reds were excelling in the league this season, as per Simon Peach of the Independent:
At the moment he is up there as one of the best strikers in the world. I think he is the difference between the teams.
Sturridge obviously is doing well and those two are very hard to stop.
Fortunately for Liverpool, both Poyet and Vertonghen are wrong, as the Reds have proven their title credentials with or without their two star strikers.
Brendan Rodgers has built a team playing so cohesively it feels like any member of his squad could step up to the challenge and carry the winning mentality that sees them top the Premier League table with four games to go.
Raheem Sterling has arguably been Liverpool’s best player during the second-half of the season. The rise and rise of the 19-year-old was illustrated perfectly by the mature composure he showed to bide his time under pressure and give Liverpool the lead against City on Sunday.
Jordan Henderson has been the driving force in Liverpool’s success—the machine, the engine connecting Liverpool’s midfield with multi-pronged attack. He will be sorely missed during his imminent three-match suspension.
Philippe Coutinho, though having experienced some dips in form of his own, continues to grow as a player and was clinical in his finish for Liverpool’s winner against City.
Liverpool have scored 93 goals in the league this season—more than any other team. Forty-nine of those have come from Suarez and Sturridge, but that leaves 44 goals from other areas of the pitch.
Steven Gerrard, amid his leadership and experience, has stepped up in high-pressure environments to net 13 league goals this season. Sterling’s tally is up to seven, as is defender Martin Skrtel's.
In fact, take Suarez and Sturridge’s goals out of the equation and Liverpool have still scored more goals than all but one team from ninth place down in the current league table.
Increasingly, since the turn of the year, inspiration for Liverpool’s victories this season is coming from an overall team performance.
It is true that the Reds may well have been over-reliant on “SAS” earlier in the campaign, but that has long been a thing of the past and beating title rivals City on Sunday during an off-day for Suarez and Sturridge embodies the progress Liverpool have made.