After three encouraging early performances this season, the reality of the fitness concerns of Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool were underlined as the England striker was once more ruled out due to injury sustained on international duty.
Be it negligent training regimes, or simple misfortune, it is remarkable how often Sturridge has suffered injury for a fourth time whilst away with the Three Lions.
In order to spin this into a positive, Brendan Rodgers now has a wealth of quality at his disposal on Merseyside.
In order to utilise these invaluable resources in the absence of Sturridge, a return to a 4-3-3 formation would suit the Reds against Villa.
The main benefactors here would be the aforementioned summer arrivals.
— ?????? (@LFCTransferNRS) August 27, 2014
The return of Adam Lallana from injury could be described as timely, given Sturridge’s woes.
Making his first appearance in a Liverpool shirt since his £25 million transfer from Southampton at the beginning of July, the 26-year-old midfielder reportedly opened his account with the only goal in a 1-0 behind closed doors friendly win over Wolves.
Suffering a disappointing injury of his own during pre-season, Lallana has witnessed the wheel turning rather morbidly in his favour; the midfielder will be just what Rodgers needs in Sturridge’s stead.
Able to play as a No. 10 or on the left wing, Lallana’s versatility will aid this transition.
In a 4-3-3, the former Bournemouth man could come in for Sturridge and operate in the latter role.
Lallana is an exceptional creative outlet, having fashioned 68 chances for his Southampton teammates last season according to Squawka; furthermore, an underrated defensive mind saw the midfielder make 37 successful interceptions in 2013/14.
In order to compensate for Sturridge’s guile and eye for goal, Lallana is a formidable dribbler of the ball, and contributed nine goals from a midfield position last season.
Making his return, Lallana would be eager to hit the ground running.
Another option would be fellow summer signing Markovic, who joined from Benfica for a fee of £20 million.
The 20-year-old is supremely confident following his move to Merseyside, and this is the first telling attribute that would compensate for the loss of Sturridge against Villa—the England striker runs a fine line of measured arrogance.
In a recent interview, Markovic claimed:
“I believe Liverpool fans expect a lot from me, and to be honest I expect a lot from myself. The same applies for the people who worked hard to bring me here. I do not have any fear or stage fright whatsoever. To tell you the truth, I can’t wait to start playing for Liverpool.”
In two cameo appearances so far, and in particular brought on as a late substitute in the 3-1 loss away to Manchester City, Markovic has proved himself a devastating option from a wide position.
At the Etihad stadium, Markovic worked well in tandem with the marauding Alberto Moreno on the left-hand side, and this could see the Reds’ No. 50 make his way into the first team if Rodgers switched to a 4-3-3.
Either Lallana or Markovic would be a fine replacement for Sturridge in a modified formation, and that’s without mentioning Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian should be champing at the bit after being dropped for the 3-0 away victory over Spurs, following two mediocre performances as the Reds began their Premier League campaign.
Such is the upturn in sheer strength in depth for Liverpool this season—three prominent international stars in contention for one role.
Another player required to step up in Sturridge’s absence, and in particular within this proposed formation change, would be Italian forward Balotelli.
Sturridge injured in England training. Hopefully he's not too bad, but this is the issue with him, he's injury prone. At least we have Mario
— Spion Kop (@TheKopHQ) September 5, 2014
Operating alongside the Englishman in a midfield diamond formation against Spurs, Balotelli performed well in a supporting role as part of a forward two.
However, in fitting with his dominant presence in the English media, the 24-year-old can thrive in the focal role of a 4-3-3.
Having worked closer towards full match fitness in the aforementioned behind closed doors outing, Balotelli should be sharper and more able as the Reds welcome Villa; a debut against Spurs saw Balotelli full of running, but profligate in front of goal.
BR on Balotelli arrival "If you look at Daniels record, he missed a no. of wks through injury. I need to ensure I have the replacements #LFC
— PhysioRoom.com (@physioroom) September 7, 2014
It is clear that Rodgers sanctioned a big-money move for the striker with Sturridge’s fitness issues in mind, and Balotelli is a player equally as comfortable in leading a forward line as he is in tandem with another striker.
With support provided from Raheem Sterling in what would likely be an advanced role in 4-3-3, as well as the penetrative runs of Markovic or the deft creativity of Lallana on the opposite flank, Rodgers could see Balotelli open his account significantly in Sturridge’s stead.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to select Liverpool’s best XI in any given situation, and this proposed change would neglect the promising start to Rickie Lambert’s Reds career and the determination of Fabio Borini—both would slot into the side if a midfield diamond endured.
Whilst injury to Sturridge is a huge blow to Rodgers and Liverpool, it is striking how many options are available to the Ulsterman in this situation this season.
A lay-off for the Englishman is much less of a worry after a productive summer.