Rebecca Parry reflects on the 0-0 draw with Hull and the impact that Daniel Sturridge‘s absence has had on the rest of the side, not just Mario Balotelli.
The first half against Hull on Saturday was unfortunately a continuation of the play we’ve witnessed for the past few weeks – we’ve stuttered, not creating much, and generally struggling at both ends of the pitch. With one noticeable absence, has our setup been completely destabilised without Sturridge?
Coming out of the game on Saturday, I didn’t feel as deflated as a 0-0 draw normally would. Yes, it’s a 0-0 draw at home to Hull, but that second half performance did provide hope that things were starting to finally turn in terms of performance level. It was a better overall team performance compared to the 3-2 win at QPR, and the other scrappy wins we have managed to get away with recently.
Sturridge’s original absence was bad enough, but the second case of injury forced us to think of a plan B. We have been taking each game as it comes, and not necessarily in a good sense. Playing Balotelli as a sole striker hasn’t worked for a number of reasons, and it’s been a case of playing each game with the thought that Sturridge may be available for the next one – a temporary problem.
The second bout of injury however, has forced Rodgers to take a different view. Unfortunately, playing against the likes of Real Madrid meant that there was not much room to experiment. We had to go with what we had, and if that was an underperforming Balotelli, then that is what we were going to work with.
Despite criticisms left, right and centre, Balotelli did work harder and have more chances on Saturday. The chances did materialise in to genuine opportunities, however, when the substititues in Lambert and Coutinho were brought on.
Lambert did well in terms of bringing the ball down and giving Balotelli the chance to get in the right positions – it gave the opposition defence more to think about, especially with Coutinho conjuring up chances with his creative qualities.
The idea of two strikers has been avoided by Rodgers, preferring to play with supporting midfielders and no.10s. However, we did play better and create more opportunities in the box with this formation – on Tuesday, it looks the way forward, for now, anyway.
Ever since Sturridge has been out, the whole team has been disrupted. The defence has been a separate issue ever since the mishaps of last season, however, without the goals, pressure has been heaped on even more. A couple of mistakes have cost us games and vital points. We’ve been lucky to stay even in the top four picture, considering performances of late.
Although Balotelli has struggled as a lone striker, full-back priorities have also been tested without Sturridge leading the line. Moreno and Manquillo have been the most present in the starting line ups, but it was picked up on that the two centre-backs in Skrtel and Lovren were being left without back-up.
Trying so hard to get back to our old ways in attacking with power, force and pace, has left us with players being out of position. Steven Gerrard has been so deep at some points that he’s behind the defensive line, and other times, he’s had to take things into his own hands going forward, especially when Balotelli has been misfiring – Saturday’s second half was a prime example.
Raheem Sterling has also had to work harder in terms of filling the void left by Sturridge. Balotelli often drifts wide, leaving no opportunity for a presence in the box, or even a simple tap-in. Sterling has been the star of the show anyway, but the national media pressure, along with being one of our main goal threats, he’s another player who has had to put in a shift everywhere.
When Sturridge returns, I don’t expect things to go back to how they were instantly, but the team setup and dynamic will hopefully become more balanced in terms of going forward. He holds the ball up very well, and does have the ability to create chances out of nothing, even if not to the level that Suarez did.
Our team played well last year because of the way they were used to each other’s game in that formation. We were lucky that in that run of 11 wins, there were few injuries that really took their toll – what’s more, we could get away with them because of the genius of Suarez if he was left on his own up front.
We’ve had one realistically good performance this season, and it’s no coincidence that this was the Spurs win where both Sturridge and Balotelli were playing. Providing them with game-time together, where surrounding players can focus on their own game, will hopefully reap the rewards as a whole when the time comes.