16 January 2013

On Suarez and Sturridge Against United

45 minutes is a piss-poor sample size, but there were some clues as to how Liverpool's new signing will link up with Liverpool's star player.

Heat Maps via Squawka:

Pass Combinations:

Overall Second Half Passes:

Both Suarez and Sturridge dropped deep, drifted wide, and spent time in the penalty box. Suarez actually spent less time on the flanks than in the first half, when he was supremely isolated in United's half, trying to find some way to have an effect. No matter the formation, both showed a willingness to switch roles, as well as the adaptability to do it successfully, despite never having played together in a competitive match.

Two of Sturridge's nine passes to Suarez were chances created: a layoff in the right channel which led to a blocked shot just before the move for Liverpool's goal and a ball over the top from the left for Suarez's tame header in the second minute of added time. One of Suarez's five to Sturridge created a chance: a long diagonal from right to left that led to Sturridge's shot into the side-netting in the 70th minute.

A fair few of Sturridge's passes came from the left channel, more of Suarez's passes came from the space between the lines in the middle of the pitch, much as you'd expect from an "orthodox" attacking #10. And, yes, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Sturridge made almost twice as passes to Suarez as vice versa and completed more passes in total in the second half. He actually passed to Suarez in the penalty box twice. Daniel Sturridge! I know, right!

That Liverpool basically played 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1; it wasn't 4-3-3, it wasn't really 4-2-3-1 either with Downing and Borini playing deeper than Suarez) meant that neither Sturridge nor Suarez really had to drift to the channels to defend or track back. Both Borini and Downing mostly stayed wide (one to better effect than the other).

This probably won't be the formation going forward, unless Rodgers tries to adapt his 4-2-3-1 for Suarez to feature as the #10. The Uruguayan would play the role very differently than Henderson, Allen, Gerrard, or Şahin. Shelvey might be the closest example; see his heat maps against Fulham and Stoke (primarily Fulham) last month. But Shelvey still dropped deeper, more involved in the midfield whether Liverpool were in or out of possession, than Suarez ever will. Or should be. And it might create even more problems in midfield, where Liverpool are already struggling to find the right blend of Lucas, Gerrard, Allen, and Henderson.

Nonetheless, as others have said, the way the two forwards linked up, joined by Borini just after the hour mark, looked promising. There were signs that both can play centrally or either can shift to the flank. Those 45 minutes against the league leaders, where the league leaders were on the back foot on their own ground, demonstrate that – as hoped – Sturridge and Suarez could well be versatile enough (and clever enough) where their starting position truly doesn't matter.

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