Wednesday was Liverpool’s first game without Fernando Torres, and with Luis Suarez on the bench and Andy Carroll still a few weeks away from his debut, Dirk Kuyt stepped back into his old role as a lone striker against Stoke City Wednesday night.
He didn’t disappoint.
The Reds started slow as they became accustomed to their new formation, but soon enough, everyone was getting forward, and Kuyt was at the center of just about every goal-scoring opportunity.
He was excellent with his back toward goal, held the ball up well while he waited for his teammates to join him and moved well off the ball. He also hustled the entire 90 minutes and was almost always in the box when Liverpool had the ball in dangerous areas. There was no look of disinterest or possible frustration on his face.
Sure, there were a couple times when viewers might’ve missed a natural striker like Torres, like when he hit a free header just wide or when he couldn’t get a shot on target after Steven Gerrard unselfishly nodded the ball down to him right in front of goal. But with the form Torres has been in this season, who’s to say he would’ve done any better?
Kuyt had a successful night up front, both when he was by himself and when Suarez made his debut in the 63rd minute. He deserved a goal for all his effort, but he did set up Suarez’s debut goal by prodding the ball just behind the Stoke back line and sent Liverpool’s new No. 7 on his way.
Kuyt’s strong play up front is no surprise. He started his career as a striker, but was converted to a winger under former Reds boss Rafa Benitez. He is the consummate team player, who will play anywhere as long as it helps the team, but his lack of goalscoring from the winger spot led many supporters to suggest he works hard but in the end doesn’t do enough.
Benitez played him as a lone striker several times when Torres was injured, and these performances were often his best displays of skill. He isn’t a natural wide player, but Liverpool is already so lacking in the width department that Kuyt may have to stay there because he’s better than anyone else available.
So how will Kenny Dalglish address this so-called lineup problem?
The answer probably every Liverpool fan wants to hear is by putting Glen Johnson on the right ahead of Martin Kelly and playing Kuyt and Suarez together up front. Johnson and Kelly played left and right wing, respectively, against Stoke, and after the half hour mark, they rarely ventured back into the Liverpool half.
That could work for the next few weeks until Carroll is fit. Obviously a Carroll/Suarez partnership is more enticing than Kuyt with either of them, but Kuyt shouldn’t be relegated to the bench when that time comes.
Kuyt is more hard working and gets into better areas than Joe Cole or Maxi Rodriguez and combines better with Gerrard and Raul Meireles behind the two strikers. He has also been playing as a wide man for the better part of four years and can get good crosses in for the 6'3" Carroll, so he can continue to play as a right winger ahead of Kelly with Johnson on the left ahead of Fabio Aurelio.
Ultimately Dalglish and Liverpool have a lot of options to choose from now that Torres is gone. With Torres, the team needed to mold around him, being a world-class striker and all. Now that the Reds have more versatile players in attack, who are just as potent but with less experience, they can mix up formations and maybe surprise their opponents along the way.