Liverpool’s visit to Norwich on Sunday represents another must-win encounter as the Reds sweep towards the Premier League title, Jack Lusby looks at the line-up options Brendan Rodgers can consider going into the game.
Following the blissful surprise of Manchester City’s 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland, Liverpool have taken another step towards Premier League title glory; this result now leaves Brendan Rodgers’ Reds needing only 10 points to secure the title.
With four games to go this is easier said than done. However, Sunday’s away trip to Norwich represents the easiest of the remaining fixtures on paper, and therefore is a must-win.
With this game taking place at the home of Norwich City, Carrow Road, this represents another big challenge for Liverpool, and as such Rodgers will not be taking his squad selection lightly in a week which he has been given a couple of headaches courtesy of high-profile absentees.
The defence is the one area of the team that is essentially settled going into this encounter, barring injury, with Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho and Jon Flanagan Rodgers’ likely choices.
Vice-captain Daniel Agger has been unlucky in recent games following injury, as French centre-back Sakho, deputising for the Dane, has performed admirably – none least than against Manchester City.
The Norwich front line represents one of the worst in the league, as Gary Hooper, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Johan Elmander have managed seven goals between them all season, and Liverpool’s defence should handle any potential partnerships Adams throws their way.
Elmander and Robert Snodgrass are perhaps the key attackers for the Canaries, with the physicality of the Swede complimenting the determination and guile of the Scot, and Rodgers’ tactical work could well focus on the pair.
Elsewhere, Norwich’s full-backs in Martin Olsson and Russell Martin are two of the club’s best players, necessitating a solid game from both Johnson and Flanagan; the pair will need to be at their best to provide the required overlapping runs, and this will be a key battle throughout.
Unfortunately, this will not be a situation available to Rodgers following Jordan Henderson’s deserved red card late on in the encounter for a rash challenge.
Losing a key, ever-present midfielder of the calibre of Henderson represents a huge loss for Rodgers, and deciding on his replacement will be paramount to Liverpool’s success in this tie.
Two options are likely to remain the same: Gerrard providing his measured maturity and title-tasting determination in the regista role, and Phillipe Coutinho further forward, as the Brazilian has proved of late that he is a key performer for the club in this title run-in.
This leaves one space in the midfield, with two likely candidates in Rodgers’ thoughts.
Firstly, brought on against Manchester City, Joe Allen exhibited the energy and defensive fervour that has become synonymous with his game, suggesting that he is ready to play Henderson role; as an adept passer, Allen possesses the same qualities as the Englishman with perhaps a little less of his physicality.
Elsewhere, returning from injury has left Lucas Leiva a squad player for Rodgers this second half of the season, and this could prove a new opportunity for the midfielder.
Whilst the Brazilian, who more often than not plays as a defensive midfielder, has the defensive qualities capable of being deployed in front of the back-four – a role which is now ostensibly Gerrard’s for the foreseeable future – the 27-year-old has been utilised further up the field of late.
Looking to bolster his World Cup chances, Lucas is likely to give all he’s got if chosen by Rodgers this Sunday.
However, with his similarities to Henderson and his qualities lending to Rodgers’ pressing game, Allen is the more likely choice if the Northern Irishman chooses to field just one.
Pre-game coverage will also focus on a potential injury to Daniel Sturridge, after limping off against City, the England striker is currently rated as a doubt for the Norwich game and as such – with the title six-pointer at home to Chelsea the following week – should be rested for this fixture.
Luckily, Liverpool possess the scourge of Norfolk in Luis Suarez, who should be raring to go following his recent exploits at Carrow Road.
Out of sorts – by his standards, I stress – of late, with just four goals in his last five games, this trip comes at the perfect time as Liverpool will look to Suarez to cover for the absence of Sturridge.
Pairing him will be an increasingly impressive Raheem Sterling – taking his City opener with a composure way beyond his 19 years, Sterling ran Coutinho close for man-of-the-match in that tie and will be looking to continue his sparkling form against Norwich.
Sturridge’s absence potentially leaves an open spot in attack, with Rodgers’ options in this area a little less straightforward. With Victor Moses and Iago Aspas the most established senior attacking options in reserve.
Moses’ lethargy and Aspas’ shrinking nature may leave Rodgers wanting in attack, although undoubtedly the pair would give their all if either were chosen.
This leads this writer to believe that perhaps the Reds’ manager will plump for both Lucas and Allen, reverting to a midfield diamond.
However, whichever option the 41-year-old opts for, we can have full confidence in his belief in their ability to contribute; in Rodgers we are blessed with an astute man-manager and an exceptional tactical presence.
RB: Glen Johnson; CB: Martin Skrtel; CB: Mamadou Sakho; LB: Jon Flanagan
DM: Steven Gerrard
CM: Lucas Leiva; CM: Joe Allen
CAM: Phillipe Coutinho
ST: Luis Suarez; ST: Raheem Sterling
Do you agree with this selection? Which players will replace Henderson and Sturridge for this tie? Let us know in the comments below.