From Anfield to The Maracana - Liverpool's World Cup Stars
Liverpool had a fantastic domestic campaign and many of their players stood out above others in the league. Their hard work and impressive performances very nearly drove them to the title, but fell at the last hurdle. Will any of them be able to take their national sides into the World Cup and go one stage further?
Arguably the star man at Anfield these days, Luis Suarez travels to Brazil on the back of an absolutely phenomenal club season. In the process of breaking Robbie Fowler’s record for goals by a Liverpool striker in a Premier League season, the Uruguayan almost became the catalyst to the Merseysider’s first league title since 1990. Personal accolades littered the days and weeks since the end of the season; winning the PFA Player of the Year, the Football Writer’s Player of the Year, and Liverpool’s Player of the Season. Should he be able to transform the goal-scoring form which took him to 31 strikes in just 33 appearances, Uruguay will be a force to be reckoned with going forward.
The one issue that the prolific striker faces is the minor knee surgery he underwent not too long ago to correct a problem. Suarez has not yet returned to full training with the rest of the first team, but his level of intensity is increasing day by day according to the national team coach, and a return to action may come sooner than expected. Oscar Tabarez said “We have great hopes of Suarez playing at the World Cup. I wouldn’t assure it will be in the first match but nor are we ruling that out.” Tabarez is well aware of the absolutely crucial role Suarez has to play this summer, and so is rightly desperate for his star striker to be fit. He has shown miraculous powers of recovery and resistance to injury during his spell at Anfield despite the weekly kicks he received. If you combine this with a tremendous amount of national pride, I believe Luis Suarez will be fit and firing come the start of the World Cup, terrorising defenders in a way that no one else can.
Daniel Sturridge’s career was threatening to peter out when he was restricted to primarily a spot on the bench at Man City and Chelsea. His move to Liverpool in January 2013 has absolutely revitalised his football, and the last 18 months have been wonderful for him. Becoming the quickest ever Liverpool player to reach 30 goals is no mean feat and it is a record such as this that has catapulted him into the England reckoning. Unfortunate timings of injuries for Sturridge has hindered the number of caps he has been able to accrue over the last year or so, but when minutes have come his way, he has not failed to impress.
In England’s approach to the World Cup, Sturridge’s rise to form has coincided with a power vacuum of other archetypal number nines. As such, the pacey left-footer has made the position at the tip of England’s attack his own, and now there is not much doubt that he has a starting spot in The Three Lions’ strongest line-up. This feeling was only reinforced by exhibiting his exquisite finishing ability in the last friendly on English soil before the World Cup against Peru. On form, Sturridge is an instinctive forward who only needs a sniff of goal to convert a chance, and he could certainly be England’s primary threat in Brazil.
Jamaican born youngster Raheem Sterling has burst onto the scene for most of the public in the last 12 months, but for people who had tracked his earlier career, this is only what was expected. When he first made an appearance in Liverpool’s first team, his game was wrought with brilliance and unpredictability in equal measures. The promise that he would show one minute when leaving defenders for dead on the flanks would be counterbalanced by going missing from proceedings for a half at a time. Now though, he has matured well beyond his 19 years under the guidance of veteran Steven Gerrard and manager Brendan Rodgers. Both have had a huge influence on the QPR youth product, giving him the confidence to express himself and know that he truly belongs as part of the team.
Sterling’s exponential rise really gathered pace in the last half of the previous season where his pace, trickery, and exuberance almost helped to win Liverpool the title. Although he had been on Roy Hodgson’s radar for some months prior to this, the form towards the end of the season made him an absolute certainty to be in the World Cup squad travelling to Brazil. For a long time, England have been criticised for a drab style of play and a serious lack of pace throughout the side. Raheem Sterling more than corrects these issues, and in the searing heat of Brazil, he could rip defences apart. Due to his inexperience, his place in the starting XI is not absolutely guaranteed, but he could well be employed on either flank or behind the striker from the start to attempt to mirror Liverpool’s blistering opening minutes in Premier League games. Hodgson could also be planning on using him primarily as a substitute to maximise the effect of defender’s tiredness. Either way, I see him really making a mark on the World Cup and informing the globe of his rise to stardom if they were not already aware.
The former Sunderland man has grown in importance for the Liverpool side since his much maligned £20 million transfer, going from a position of ridicule to a vital component. His 3 game absence at the tail-end of the Premier League title run in was sharply felt, with something missing that usually gave an increased dynamism all across the park. Jordan Henderson has developed a terrific relationship with Steven Gerrard alongside him at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield, and looks to bring that into the England set-up to control proceedings at the World Cup. Both know each other’s game implicitly now purely down to the cast amounts of football they have played together and partnering the two of them in the middle of the park for the national team is the obvious choice this summer.
Henderson is able to do all the running for The Red’s captain who cannot be as energetic as he was in his younger days. It is all very well possessing the stamina to run all day, but it is worthless without having the quality on the ball to produce an end result. Not only has he carried out a terrific amount of work in the gym to improve his strength and fitness, but technical aspects of Henderson’s game are coming on leaps and bounds too. Keeping possession and shifting the ball quickly has been instilled into the entire of Liverpool’s playing staff ever since Brendan Rodgers took over 2 years ago. A marked improvement in this regard has been noticed in Jordan Henderson above many others, and as part of the large Liverpool contingent in England’s World Cup squad, hopefully the same philosophy can be translated across to dominate the ball all summer long.
Captain of his boyhood club and his country, Steven Gerrard is a pivotal cog in any team that has the fortune to call on him. In the previous 2 World Cups, he has been a part of a conventional midfield pairing, filling the role of a box to box, all-action player. The effect on the side that he could have from here was revered and on many occasions, he has been the driving force in dragging his team mates from the depths of despair. Since 2010 however, that energetic aspect to his game has begun to deplete somewhat and now well into his thirties, Brendan Rodgers has introduced him to role in the mould of a governor general. Sitting deep, occasionally dropping almost between the centre halves to pick up possession and dictate the play, Steven Gerrard is affecting matches in an entirely new way. His passing ability used to be deployed in producing killer balls through to forwards, very much in a high risk but high reward fashion.
Now however, Liverpool’s skipper often finds himself too close to his own goal for these passes to be a realistic option and so instead, using his magnificent range of passing and game intelligence, will switch the play and shift the ball on to others in dangerous advanced positions. Having seen the effectiveness of Gerrard in this role which had been developed and honed by Rodgers, Roy Hodgson used the same ideas with the national side. Operating as a ‘regista’, Steven Gerrard can save the energy in his legs and spring counter attacks at will. He had not received enough range for his quality on the ball until this recent positional change, and this will be a crucial factor in England’s success in the World Cup. As a nation, we have always struggled to maintain possession of the ball against better opposition but often Gerrard would find himself further up-field. It is hoped that by being able to control the flow of the game to a greater degree, he can help the team soak up pressure, keep the ball for sustained periods, draw the opposition out, and then spring the pacey forwards into space. It is certainly the formula of choice in the heat of Brazil, making Gerrard’s form a deciding factor on England’s performance.