[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ollowing Liverpool’s tough loss to rivals Manchester United on Sunday, all eyes were on the captain, Steven Gerrard. The often-composed field general lost himself and stomped on Ander Herrera’s ankle, getting sent off about 45 seconds after coming on for Adam Lallana to start the second half.
Questions swirled around what he was thinking, as well as what manager Brendan Rodgers was thinking for putting him on in that situation. Many cited that Rodgers was too “soft” for allowing Gerrard to play against United one last time at Anfield, valuing sentiment over actually winning the match.
While Gerrard’s red card is absolutely an issue, as he will now be gone for three games, it is not the only issue surrounding Liverpool. With contract disputes, injuries, and other suspensions looming, there could be trouble ahead at Anfield.
The biggest issue for the Reds has to be the stalling of contract talks with young star Raheem Sterling. The versatile 20-year-old has played as a lone striker up top, an advanced midfielder and a right wing-back in recent matches, and he has been instrumental in Liverpool’s run of fine form up until the United match. Since the beginning of 2015, talks of Sterling leaving for a “bigger” club such as Bayern Munich or Real Madrid have persisted, and, although Rodgers and Liverpool would love to keep him in their side, he has reportedly been quite stingy in contract negotiations.
Could the looming issue of Sterling’s contract be hampering his play? Does he have his mind on something other than the pitch? There’s a lot of speculation surrounding the youngster, with most assuming that his recent drop in output for the side is a result of the tension caused by the contract. While it can be argued that the dip in form has come from his move to wing back, there are certainly issues arising from the contract, and they need to be solved soon.
Liverpool supporters may not want to hear this, but perhaps the price for Sterling is too steep, and in many ways it would benefit the club to sell him come summer. Sterling is a world-class talent, and it appears that he could become even better in the future, as he is only 20. However, every player hits a certain ceiling, and there’s no telling where Sterling’s will be. Although he has talent, his production for Liverpool may not too difficult to replicate, especially with the speculated money they could receive from the likes of a Bayern Munich or Real Madrid. It would be great to see Raheem Sterling stay in red, but the future isn’t doomed without him, and a final decision could clear the air and allow him to play at a higher level as Liverpool seeks to make up ground in the chase for a top four finish.
Another pressing issue is with the suspensions. Many arguments can be made over Gerrard’s, as some see it as a blessing, while others believe he provides leadership that will be missed for three games. Aside from Gerrard, there is another possible suspension that would hurt Liverpool immensely.
Martin Škrtel has been charged by the FA for his alleged “stamp” on United’s David de Gea at the end of the loss on Sunday, and it’s hard to argue that it was an accident. He plans to challenge the charge, but, assuming it does not go his way, Liverpool has an issue in the back three.
With a match ahead with in-form Olivier Giroud and a high-powered Arsenal attack, Liverpool are in need of their strongest defender in Škrtel, but will likely be without him. Emre Can and Mamadou Sakho serve well in their outside roles, and it doesn’t look like one of them would move to Škrtel’s centre spot. Can Dejan Lovren or Kolo Touré really provide what Škrtel has this season? Brendan Rodgers has a tough job to do there, as he may have to consider switching up his formation to better suit the personnel in the back for the possible spell without his rock in the back.
Finally, Liverpool, as has been a recurring theme this season, has issues with injuries. Adam Lallana left the match against Manchester United at half-time after being knocked around in the first half, and reportedly has a groin issue. Hopefully, with the international break here, he can recover in time to play against Arsenal on April 4. The main issue in the injury department lies with-again-the man up front, Daniel Sturridge. A reported hip injury has him withdrawn from England’s international fixtures against Lithuania and Italy, and could see him out of the Liverpool side for another period of time.
Sturridge’s injury may benefit Raheem Sterling, as it should allow him to take back an attacking role. The problem is, what is there after Sterling? Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, and Fabio Borini have proved incredibly ineffective, and, should something happen to Sterling, Liverpool could find themselves in deep trouble on the attack, especially with Jordon Ibe still sidelined with his injury.
It will be difficult to overcome these bumps in the road, as Liverpool have to make up the lost ground in the Premier League table and beat Blackburn to advance in the FA Cup. They’ve proven themselves capable without the likes of Sturridge and Gerrard, but to be missing them along with Škrtel and Lallana, well that is a new challenge.
We’ll wait for the Martin Škrtel situation to play itself out, as there is still a chance that the back three can remain intact, but, if Škrtel is ultimately punished, expect Kolo Touré to get the nod over Dejan Lovren. Touré is more stable back there, but we can only hope that Can and Sakho can cover for him in the areas that he doesn’t excel in as much as Škrtel.
As for the attack, look for Lazar Marković or Glen Johnson to slide into Sterling’s wingback role, as Sterling will move up front. It would make more sense to place Sterling in an advanced role alongside Philippe Coutinho, and allow Balotelli, Lambert, or Borini to have a chance alone up top, as Liverpool don’t really have anybody else to play with Coutinho if Lallana is out.
Only time will tell if Liverpool can handle this spell without some of their top players along with their star’s contract issues. These next few matches will be tough with suspensions and potential injuries, and Brendan Rodgers will have to use some kind of magic to make things work against a team with the prowess of Arsenal. Also, although United clearly outplayed the Reds on Sunday, in the future, it would be nice to have 11 men on the field at all times in the future.
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