Liverpool: Can Reds Beat Wigan Athletic Without Injured Daniel Sturridge?

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17:  Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool shoots at goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on February 17, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool have had more than a week to recover from the disappointment of being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League by Zenit St. Petersburg, and they return to action on Saturday in the Premier League against relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic.

The Reds have a good record in the league this season against bottom-half clubs, and beat Wigan at Anfield 3-0 earlier in the season.

Having initially struggled to break the Latics down in the first half, Liverpool eventually managed a comfortable three points after Luis Suarez scored early after the break—but their performance before that goal was symptomatic of their troubles at times over the past few seasons.

Namely, not enough players have been a goal threat.

Since signing Daniel Sturridge in January from Chelsea, Liverpool have seemingly eradicated that problem (at least in the league, with Sturridge unavailable in Europe). The new Reds striker has hit five goals in seven appearances, and his partnership with Suarez has yielded 10 goals between them with both forwards on the pitch.

So with both forwards on the pitch at the same time, the Reds look far more dangerous—but Liverpool might have to face Wigan at DW Stadium without the former Chelsea man.

Daniel [Sturridge] has had a little knock, but we'll assess the in the next day or so and we'll see how he is for the weekend. Apart from that, everyone is good.

So spoke manager Brendan Rodgers in his pre-match press conference, and fans must be wondering if the Reds can take three important points without Sturridge in the side.

Suarez, of course, has been superb running the front line on his own, but there is no denying that the Reds lack a real presence through the middle when the No. 7 is deployed as the lone central attacker.

With the Uruguayan's tendency to drop deep to get involved in the build-up play, or work the channels to attack the full-backs, Liverpool are reliant on their wide forwards to make clever runs into the spaces he vacates; spaces that Sturridge has so naturally and willingly filled recently.

Wigan regularly employ a three-man central defensive system.

For Liverpool, this is relevant because even if the wide attackers do cut inside, a drifting Suarez still leaves the Reds outnumbered in the final third of the pitch.

With no central figure remaining in the middle, stretching the defence laterally and occupying perhaps two centre-backs at once, there is a danger that the Reds will fall back into their habit of maintaining control and possession of the ball, with too little penetration to be a real threat to the opposition.

Of course, Suarez roving centrally and high up the pitch also occupies two defenders, or more, and they can't always stop him even so.

The presence or absence of Sturridge, though, will tilt the possibility of Liverpool taking all three points quite significantly in one direction or the other.