Sterling, Sturridge Strike but Liverpool Lack Spark of Luis Suarez

Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2014

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17: Raheem Sterling of Liverpool is challenged by James Ward-Prowse of Southampton during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield on August 17, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Goals from Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool an opening Premier League win, but Brendan Rodgers' side lacked the spark of Luis Suarez.

The similarities between this performance, against what was an impressive Southampton side, and Liverpool's opening games of last season were apparent.

Twelve months ago—missing the then-suspended Suarez—the Reds opened with three consecutive 1-0 wins, with Sturridge scoring the winner in each. The England forward got the winner at Anfield, too, poking home from close range to give Rodgers' side all three points.

Clearly, it's early days, and if Liverpool go on to perform as they did last season, then we're in for an exciting season. The question is, though: Will they be able to add that creative, energetic spark in the final third without their departed Uruguayan?


System and Personnel

Much has been made of how—between them—Philippe Coutinho and Sterling can replace Suarez, with Rodgers seeking to get Coutinho in the No. 10 role behind Sturridge in order to let the Brazilian be the creator in chief.

It was there where Coutinho began the game, as Rodgers began with a 4-2-3-1 shape and Lucas Leiva alongside Steven Gerrard. It was a shape which saw Liverpool lack fluidity, and they changed to 4-3-3 in the second half.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:  Rickie Lambert of Liverpool comes on as a substitute for Philippe Coutinho during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield on August 17, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Liv
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A change took place again when Rickie Lambert entered the match shortly before Sturridge's winning goal, with Coutinho removed and Sterling moved to the point of the midfield diamond in a 4-1-2-1-2.

That formation proved successful in the latter stages of last season, but without Suarez, the question now is whether Lambert can be considered as a starter alongside Sturridge. Perhaps that shape is the one which we are more likely to see if Rodgers signs the forward he desires in these final weeks of the transfer window.

Some reports, such as Rob Draper in the Mail on Sundayclaim Liverpool could yet acquire Radamel Falcao; the prospect of he and Sturridge alongside each other would certainly quell any questions over Suarez's replacement.


Missing Men

Similarly, though, once new signings Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic are available, we may see Coutinho in a more central midfield three alongside Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. That would place Lallana and Sterling as the support players for Sturridge.

Sterling took his goal well, expertly supplied by Henderson, continuing to show his improved composure. The 19-year-old could yet become a more central figure in terms of his role within the side, playing closer to Sturridge through the middle than out wide.


Early Days

Liverpool weren't convincing, but not many have been on this opening weekend—no doubt some clubs suffering from the exertions of the World Cup and some rather lengthy pre-season tours.

Jon Super/Associated Press

It was a slow start, but Liverpool collected points which gave Rodgers' side such a platform for their unexpected and enjoyable campaign last season. They built to a crescendo, ending the season with some of the best football Anfield has seen in 20 years.

With the right addition up front, improved fluidity from both a settled system and Lallana adding to the side, Liverpool should be able to find their spark—even without Suarez.