“I am not sure there are two better in the league. Those two are right up there with the best in the country…”
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for his strike duo last Sunday, as they played a vital role in beating managerless Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium of Light. Few would be surprised to hear his words being echoed again, as Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge inspired the Reds to a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace. Before studying the duo’s performances on Saturday in their first match together at Anfield this season, one should analyse the recent revival of a promising partnership that could fashion a statement regarding their ambitions for this campaign.
Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan forward punished with a ten-match ban for sinking his teeth into the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, returned from his footballing exile last weekend to face Sunderland. His first league appearance of the season saw him swiftly reinstated to the starting line-up, combining with Daniel Sturridge to deliver the goods that handsomely illustrated the potency of Liverpool’s latest strike partnership. Sturridge was on hand (if you will pardon the pun) to score once again before creating two goals for Suarez, as the Reds secured the points.
It was evident that Liverpool’s most important player last season was Suarez. The Uruguayan made 33 appearances in the league and scored 23 goals, finishing second to Manchester United’s Robin van Persie in the race for the Golden Boot. Club captain Steven Gerrard feared the striker would leave in the summer, after Suarez expressed a desire to play for a club in the Champions League. Arsenal had two bids rejected for the player and was also linked with Real Madrid, but Liverpool stood firm and were determined to keep him at Anfield.
“Nobody tried harder than me to make him stay and he knows exactly what I think of him,” said Gerrard. “He is a special type of footballer and he gives us something different. When the club got the message to him that they were not going to sell him, he got his head down and has worked hard. I think it is a credit to Luis for the way he has come back. He realised that the club wanted to keep him and he has respected their decision. He is here now and he wants to stay. He wants to achieve something this season and he looks as hungry as he has ever done.”
Sturridge, on the other hand, had flourished in the absence of his strike partner. He has enjoyed the responsibility of being the main source for goals by netting the winners against Stoke City, Aston Villa and Manchester United. Sturridge’s goalscoring exploits after the first three games of this season guided Liverpool to the top of the table, resulting in the England forward and Brendan Rodgers to be awarded with the Barclays Player and Manager of the Month accolades for August respectively. This marked the Reds’ best start to a season since 1994/95. A thigh injury ruled out any involvement in England’s World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine, but he continued his goalscoring run by finding the net in a 2-2 draw with Swansea City.
Back-to-back defeats soon followed for Liverpool as they lost their first league game to Southampton and crashed out of the League Cup to Manchester United. Rodgers welcomed the arrival of Suarez with open arms as the Uruguayan produced an encouraging display at Old Trafford, but was unable to mark his return with victory. Liverpool had failed to win in their last three games in all competitions before their clash with Sunderland.
The reunion of Liverpool’s front pair for the first time at Anfield was never in doubt. Suarez required only 13 minutes to open the scoring against Crystal Palace, steering a superb low shot past Julian Speroni from 12 yards despite plummeting over. Sturridge wasted no time to print his name on the scoresheet three minutes later, twisting and turning before smashing an excellent strike into the far bottom corner beyond the reach of the goalkeeper. Steven Gerrard scored his first of the season from the penalty spot to put Liverpool in a commanding position before half-time, before Dwight Gayle snatched a consolation deep into the second half.
Questions were being asked of whether Rodgers would be successful in restoring Suarez, so that his integration did not cause an imbalance to a system which had seen Liverpool make a positive start to the campaign. Before he was suspended last season, Suarez showed that he was more than able to forge an effective partnership with Sturridge. One of the challenges Rodgers has been poised with is to reignite the firepower within his strike force. Based on recent wins over Sunderland and Crystal Palace, there is strong evidence that this striker combination could inject fear into the hearts of defences. Suarez has found the net 19 times in his last 22 games for the Reds, while Sturridge has 19 in 25 games since his arrival in January. Some will argue that this partnership requires further examination and testing, having disposed of two clubs who are currently struggling for form and find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table.
There will be many obstacles and trials for Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool side to overcome. The Premier League campaign is still in its infancy but with the Reds starting positively, optimism will begin to develop around Anfield. One thing is certain, the 2013/14 season promises to be a thrilling rollercoaster ride.
Note: This article was originally posted on Insight Sport.