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Dispelling the myth that Liverpool are a one-man, or two-man team

Ramachandran Chittur uses statistical evidence to dismiss the recent claims by Guy Poyet and Tim Sherwood that Liverpool are only about Luis Suarez.

CARDIFF, WALES - Saturday, March 22, 2014: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring the fith goal against Cardiff City with team-mate Luis Suarez during the Premiership match at the Cardiff City Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring the fith goal against Cardiff City with team-mate Luis Suarez (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A resounding victory against Tottenham has put Liverpool back on the top of the table. A complete commanding performance against a team, that was supposed to rival Liverpool for the fourth place this season, speaks volumes of how the team has progressed this season.

It was absolutely mesmerising and entertaining to watch the team playing free flowing football, which had the DNA of the team under our greatest managers Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and Kenny Dalglish.

Without any exception, all these former managers had great strikers in their era like Ian St. John, John Toshack, Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan and  Dalglish, who were prolific during those golden years and were instrumental in Liverpool winning league titles, European Cups and FA Cups.

The similarity between Brendan Rodgers’ current team and all these yesteryear teams is the system of focusing on capable strikers.

So, when Gus Poyet, Tim Sherwood and co. label Liverpool a one man or a two-man team, is it justified?

 

‘SAS’ partnership

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge form the current breed of the lethal strike partnerships which Liverpool has missed for years.

They have amassed 49 goals (and counting) between them, smashing long standing records. Liverpool have scored 84 goals this season of which the SAS partnership contributes 58% of them. This indicates the mighty role they have played in Liverpool’s victories.

A look at the top four teams in terms of overall goals scored and the contribution of the strikers clearly shows how dominant the SAS partnership is.

(Note: not taking into account the own goals that have been scored for the teams)

However, the most fascinating fact is that SAS combination has never been played an as out and out striker pair (apart from the matches which involved 3-5-2). They have always been played in a system which involves either one of them dropping to the wide areas or playing in a deeper role to support the other partner.

Great sides have been built around strikers and most of the title winning teams rely on the goals from them. The goal scoring pattern of Liverpool’s current forwards is following this trend.

A look at the title winning teams since 2005 gives a fair reflection on this observation:

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 07.34.40

Apart from the 2005-06 season, the rest of the seasons clearly reflect that more than 55% of the total goals are contributed by the forwards/strikers. This statistic shows the importance of goals scored by forwards in title winning teams.

However, to answer the question posed above, it is important to have a look at the contribution from the rest of the team as well.

Liverpool definitely does not top this table. Chelsea and Arsenal are way ahead when it comes to others contributing towards goals apart from their forwards. It is this over reliance on the midfield and defence for goals that has hampered these teams when it comes to breaking down the stubborn opponents (as seen with Chelsea against teams like West Ham, Aston Villa and most recently Crystal Palace).

This re-emphasises the point that strikers are an important part of the part of the team and they are meant to score goals.

If strikers do not end up scoring goals then it leads to problems of over dependence on the midfield or the defence to neutralise it. When such teams collectively have an off day it gets reflected in their performances against ordinary sides. Liverpool has managed to outplay the other teams this season by strengthening their strikers.

However, the contribution from the midfield and defence of Liverpool is significant and cannot be ignored. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling all have contributed to important goals some time or the other.

Liverpool has the highest scoring defender amongst their ranks in Martin Skrtel and no one makes a mention of him even though he has outscored Fernando Torres, Demba Ba, Roberto Soldado and Stevan Jovetic to name a few, whose roles are to score goals.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 8, 2014: Liverpool's Martin Skrtel celebrates scoring the first goal against Arsenal during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Happier times for Skrtel after scoring against Arsenal. Pic: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda

It is true that both Suarez and Sturridge have carried the team on their shoulders during the season but they are not the only ones instrumental in Liverpool being at the top of the table. The entire team has shared the burden of collectively working together to ensure that winning the title is just 6 victories away.

As his predecessors, Rodgers has managed to create a system and formation that is built around the strikers, which ensures that the deadly combination of SAS is yielding goals almost every game. Optimum utilisation of resources is a key parameter in winning a game. Liverpool has managed to achieve this by forming a team that supports the world class striker partnership.

So is Liverpool a one-man, or even two-man team? No! It is a team with strikers taking on the load of scoring goals with the appropriate support from the midfield as well as the defence.

If Liverpool does win the title, major plaudits will go the SAS partnership. However, football being a team game one can’t ignore the contribution of the team as whole.

May this continue for seasons to come as this team has the potential to create a new dynasty!

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