West Brom setback highlights the importance of Sturridge to Rodgers' Liverpool project

The 23-year-old striker was ruled out of Monday's game due to a thigh injury and had to watch on at Anfield as the Merseyside club suffered another humiliating defeat
By David Lynch

Brendan Rodgers has taken plenty of flak this season for his use of pretentious positional terminology such as “false winger”, but it is hard not to believe that the Northern Irishman would be above such derision had Liverpool’s campaign not been punctuated by what he would undoubtedly term “false dawns”.

The only aspect in which the Reds have in fact evidenced any consistency so far during this campaign is in letting down their fans’ inflated expectations; providing encouragement and a basis for confidence before cruelly piercing hopes with insipid performances.

With this is mind, the club’s supporters should perhaps have seen Monday evening’s 2-0 defeat to West Brom coming.

Consecutive 2-2 draws away from home against Manchester City and Arsenal earned through performances which merited more points should have been treated with the cynicism they deserved. Quite simply, why set yourself up for a fall?

A season of humiliations at home
Aug 30
Liverpool 1-1 Hearts
Oct 4
Liverpool 2-3 Udinese
Oct 7
Liverpool 0-0 Stoke
Oct 31
Liverpool 1-3 Swansea
Nov 22
Liverpool 2-2 Young Boys
Dec 15
Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa
Feb 11
Liverpool 0-2 West Brom
Karl Marx famously once said that “history repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce” but there were elements of both on show during the Merseysiders’ latest capitulation at Anfield. Untouched dominance preceded a missed, undeserved penalty before the inevitable sucker punch was provided via a set piece and a counterattack from the Baggies.

It was, in essence, a slightly delayed version of the sort of crushing blow dealt to the Reds’ slim top-four hopes by another Midlands side, Aston Villa, back in December. But it is telling that such an ignominious performance, one which came prior to the January window and the arrival of Daniel Sturridge, should be repeated in his absence.

The lack of bodies in the box, woeful movement up top and the conundrum over how to best utilise Suarez had all seemingly been solved by the 23-year-old’s signing, but the Liverpool of old reared its head again here with the striker ruled out due to a thigh injury.

It appears that the importance of keeping the former Chelsea man fit is not entirely down to the numerous qualities he has repeatedly evidenced since joining the Merseyside club. The balance he provides has rapidly become a crucial factor for a team which, as they showed against West Brom, had very little prior to his introduction.

That Liverpool mustered 14 shots on target against Steve Clarke’s side only to earn nothing in return will also have damaging consequences for a chance conversion rate which has slowly crept up since Sturridge arrived.

Unfortunately for Rodgers, even when the forward does return, he is unlikely to be able to do a job at centre-half as well as up top. And it is in that area of the pitch where the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of a frustrating draw has become a popular theme at Anfield.

To fail to score at home in the face of masterful performances from Gareth McAuley, his centre-back partner Jonas Olsson and the peerless Ben Foster in goal is perhaps excusable, if not entirely satisfactory. But to allow the opposition to score a game-changing goal, from a corner kick, with their first shot on target, and in the 81st minute? Certainly not.
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Rodgers has seemingly struck upon a winning formula in attack when all his best options are fit but this has undoubtedly come at the expense of solidity at the back. Martin Skrtel had embraced the role of scapegoat in order to allow for the reintroduction of Jamie Carragher, but the same soft underbelly remains regardless of personnel.

It is a balancing act the 40-year-old will surely lament having to perform given that he has experienced international central defenders at his disposal who should be doing better. It seems this rebuilding job – and make no mistake, that is what Rodgers faces at Liverpool – is set to address its shaky foundations last of all.

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