It was only a year ago the SAS were firing on all cylinders, ruthlessly collecting scalps like a hustler at a poker table. Stealing all the chips and the plaudits to boot. Suarez was being hailed as one of the greatest in the world, whilst Daniel Sturridge was the future of English football.
This season, Liverpool’s strikers have just eight goals between them. And with no poker pun intended, that’s a flop.
It’s a stark contrast to last season, but of course it’s expected to be; they’ve been without Sturridge for the best part of the season and the 30 goals per season Uruguayan has upped sticks to Catalonia. That’s a lot of goals missing. Goals that Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert have failed to provide.
Yet the club are still four points off the Champions League places and in a vein of form winning five out of six games, but should a more ruthless finisher have been found in the summer, could they have a few more chips in their stack?
In recent weeks, it’s been Sterling who has led the line for Liverpool, and he’s adapted to the role well. But without the natural finishing ability of the likes of Sturridge, he’s failed to convert countless opportunities.
He terrorised Manchester United at times but failed to finish important chances, whilst his tally for the year is just five in the Premier League, a million miles away from those firing in top four sides.
However, in recent weeks Rodgers has adapted his side and got them playing in a style capable of scoring without the need for top-class striker. Like a world-class chess player moving his pawns or a poker player curiously analysing his opponents, Brendan Rodgers has adapted.
Changing formations towards the end of the calendar year, the Northern Irishman has had to take a cue from the world’s top poker pros, and reflect on previous games and identify weaknesses to make sure results like defeats to Crystal Palace and Aston Villa don’t happen.
It’s a key tactic in most sports. On the football pitch, teams of scouts watch opposition to try and nullify opposition. Saturday’s game against West Ham saw a very quiet Andy Carroll – whilst in poker for example, watching the facial expressions of players can be instrumental in taking the advantage.
And the facial expression of Rodgers right now will be nothing but smiles. They’re through to the FA Cup Fifth Round and mounting real pressure on Southampton and Manchester United for the fourth spot, the prestigious spot they worked for so hard last season.
In recent weeks they’ve displayed all the attributes to do it whilst the teams above have faltered.
That of course is down to the fine form of the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Sterling, and Jordan Henderson, but also the huge amount of people behind the scene from nutritionists, to sports scientists, to psychologists.
The new build of managers like Rodgers have put huge emphasis on psychology with Steve Peters, the man who has worked with the UK Olympians, British cycling heroes, and Rocket Ronnie O’Sullivan, joining the club in 2012.
In the modern world it can really affect a pros mentality with professional athletes across sport needing to believe in themselves, which according to research carried out by PokerStars, stimulates hypothalamus, creating high self-esteem, and in turn success.
Of course this doesn’t address the fact that Liverpool do need a striker, particularly with the injury problems Daniel Sturridge has faced. The brand of football Liverpool play encourages attacking, fluid football, but without a flurry of goalscorers it isn’t as effective.
Club legend Jamie Carragher summed it up well in the Express lately stating, “Liverpool’s problem of late is that they are not scoring the goals that their play deserves.”
Balotelli has never scored more than 20 in a season, whilst Rickie Lambert has failed to really fit in at the club. But who can the Reds bring in when summer rolls round?
They’ll be without the Ace in the pack in Steven Gerrard who jets off to LA in the summer which is further goals lost, so they’ll be desperate to take some of the pressure off Sturridge and Sterling for goals.
Rodgers seems to be learning from mistakes made in January in his attempts to replace Suarez losing out on Mauro Icardi on deadline day and almost seeing Lambert moving to Aston Villa. He’s already in pursuit of Danny Ings who has netted seven times for relegation battling Burnley, and he’ll also be keeping his eye on the likes of Saido Berahino at West Brom and a host of foreign talents including Alexandre Lacazette and Karim Benzema, who is being eyed up in a £38million deal.
The New Balance deal worth approximately £300million over the next six years will almost certainly help those go through, with the cash injection lifting them from Financial Fair Play issues.
What’s certain is that there’s no bluffing from the Reds at the moment, they are desperate for a striker and their hand tallying eight goals says it all – Gerrard alone has hit more than that this season.
We’ll expect plenty of gossip up until that time, but with Sturridge back and the January window closed, it’s time to forget what’s going on in the periphery and concentrate on the pitch where Rodgers had tinkered his team into a winning formula.
Everton, Tottenham, Southampton, and Manchester City are all to come in the coming weeks which will be instrumental in where they finish come the end of the season, and hopefully Sturridge will be able to supply the goals which have been missing in the early stages of the season. Do that and the prize pot of Champions League football could be on the horizon for the second season running.