Should Daniel Sturridge or Philippe Coutinho start for Liverpool against Chelsea?
Liverpool’s reemergence as an attacking force has been one of the most exhilarating stories of the Premier League this calendar year. After selling Luis Suarez and losing Daniel Sturridge to a string of injuries, the club went from a sharp edged side who had scored 101 league goals in 2013/14 to a blunt, weak and fairly non-threatening collection of all-too-similar players.
Jurgen Klopp has changed that, though. Four games into the Premier League campaign, and the Reds have already put four goals past both of last season’s top two, as well as five past Championship club Burton Albion. Admittedly, the Reds are still yet to find a formula to repeat these performances every week, but the signs are promising that they are back as a lethal attacking force.
The main reason for this is the formation, which certainly holds nothing back in getting on the front foot. The 4-3-3 system includes two players who are used to playing as advanced midfielders; Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana, behind an attacking three full of pace, verve and spontaneity.
Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have both started the season so well that they are almost undroppable from this three. Mane’s pace has caused the defenders of Spurs, Arsenal and Leicester no end of troubles, and his absence was keenly felt in the meek surrender at Turf Moor. Firmino is a player who carries creativity and ruthless finishing in equal measure, and also possesses the flexibility to play as the central striker and out wide. The two of them will both start against Chelsea on Friday.
That leaves just one more space in the side for two of Liverpool’s most potent attacking options to fight for it. Philippe Coutinho started the season in sparkling fashion at Arsenal, but was dropped against Leicester due to a long-haul journey with the Brazilian national team, and the Reds’ 4-1 win has perhaps unfairly cast his previously certain starting place into doubt.
Daniel Sturridge did not appear to be in a particularly happy place at the start of the season, but he was sparkling against Leicester, with only a goal missing from a brilliant performance that included a fabulous backheeled assist for Sadio Mane and some really hard work.
Coutinho had begun 2016/17 so well that it is unlikely there would even be a debate had Sturridge not starred against the champions at Anfield. However, the Englishman did not only play well himself, but his role in the team appeared to really benefit the team. His combination of pace and trickery forced Leicester’s central defenders back, thereby leaving acres of space for Firmino to get on the ball in the gaps between midfield and defence. The fact Firmino was able to face defenders rather than play with his back to them was of great benefit to the side.
That said, Coutinho and Firmino do work very well as a duo, and started together in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Friday’s opponents last season. The fact that David Luiz will be back in central defence for Chelsea could also encourage Klopp to deploy Firmino – a man generally more energetic and diligent than Sturridge – in the middle. The returning centre-half is bound to want to play out from the back, and a formation with Firmino in the centre and Coutinho out wide is more likely to encourage pressing on the nervy defender.
Ultimately, that could be the deciding factor in Klopp’s decision. Sturridge has been excellent all season, and were the ageing John Terry fit, his pace could give him the factor over Coutinho. However, injury to the Chelsea captain has brought David Luiz into the side, and the extra mobility and pressing from the Brazilian duo up front could be of great benefit to the Reds. Coutinho should get the nod in this one, with Sturridge brought off the bench to cause havoc.
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