Liverpool slumped to another defeat at the weekend to perpetual nemesis Manchester United, and while the 3-0 scoreline certainly looks damning on paper, the Reds weren’t without their chances to make it less one-sided.
Last year Liverpool did the double over their Red Devil rivals and one of the goalscorers in the second of those two games was a certain toothy Uruguayan. Granted, Manchester United are a different prospect this time around but you have to wonder how much of a difference a mercurial talent like his would make in a game that is typically decided by small margins.
Luis Suárez exhausted everyone- the defenders he terrorized on a weekly basis as well as the team that had him on the books and reaped the rewards of his genius.
After the World Cup fiasco most Liverpool fans I know were of a “good riddance” mentality when they shipped that same Uruguayan off to Catalonia, almost relieved that the high-maintenance saga was over. But throughout the course of this year, we’ve all seen firsthand the difference between having a world-class striker and not having one.
For a more obvious illustration, consider this: Liverpool this year have more losses than wins, have conceded more goals than they’ve scored, and sit 11th in the table after 16 games. This same time last year, the Reds had recorded 10 wins along with 3 draws and 3 losses, had a +21 goal differential, and sat second in the league behind Arsenal. We all know how that songs ends, but what about this one? Was Suárez really so imperative?
If Sturridge comes back and doesn’t hit the heights of last season, as everyone else from last year’s campaign can’t seem to do for Liverpool, should we be surprised? Sometimes a team has such a carbon-tipped influence leading the line, that when you take this person out of the equation, you end up lacking an identity. The following front men have that influence this year, and while they may not be Luis Suárez, they may be as valuable to their respective teams as he was at Anfield:
Danny Ings, Burnley:
You can’t spell “surviving” without Ings. And I may be in the minority (as a matter of fact I know I am) when I say that I think Burnley have a real shot at avoiding the drop this season. They remind me very much of a certain Crystal Palace team last year- a gritty, scrappy, 90 full throttle minutes team that was expected to be relegated by, well, now really. They are far from done, and while Tony Pulis won’t be descending from the heavens to grace the Clarets with another one of his miracle escapes, they’ve got the next best thing in Sean Dyche- a coach who, like Pulis, has a certain criteria of qualities for the players he wants in his team.
Danny Ings represents a Sean Dyche player. He’s a relentless runner who presses all over the field. It’s this kind of pressing that led to Burnley’s winner over Southampton at the weekend. He’s got four goals in 13 games so far, hardly a spectacular return but good enough to be Burnley’s top scorer thus far, and I can’t see him getting much more help in that department. Burnley has only scored in nine games so far, and Ings has either had a goal or assist in five of them. If Burnley are to survive, it is because Danny Ings is firing.
Charlie Austin, QPR:
It took him a while to state his arrival, but Charlie Austin was just starting to hum when he picked up a red card suspension. A return of eight goals and three assists in 14 Premier League games looks pretty clever right about now, but for QPR’s sake, hopefully the other striker-depleted Premier League teams haven’t noticed.
Queens Park Rangers have four wins so far, and Austin has scored the game winner in three of them, and in the fourth win, a 2-0 triumph over Burnley, he assisted the game winner before adding another later in the game. Let’s not forget the improbable 2-2 draw with Manchester City where, had it not been for a few very close offside calls, Austin would have bagged a hat-trick. He had to settle for one against the reigning champs.
With his 6’2″ frame, Austin cuts a commanding figure, and has a penchant for clearing space and being in the right place at the right time when the ball is bouncing around in the box. If QPR are to survive, it will be a two-front battle. The first will take place in the backrooms in January, fighting off would-be suitors for Austin’s signature. And if they win on that front, the second half of the season begins with Charlie Austin looking to guide his team to safety.
Harry Kane, Spurs:
Nobody is more surprised to see this name on this list than yours truly, but Harry Kane presents a strong case. Nobody has been more willing to buy into the high-pressing style of Mauricio Pochettino than Kane. With the only other option up front being Roberto Soldado, maybe he didn’t have a choice.
But the fact remains, Spurs have won every game where Kane either scored or provided an assist. And while Christian Eriksen has twice stolen the headlines for his late game heroics, there would be no heroics at all if not for the goals scored by Kane earlier in both the games where Spurs squeezed out wins. With Soldado still failing to live up to his steep price tag, and Adebayor set to miss even more time due to the African Cup of Nations in January, the front line duties will surely fall solely on the young Kane. Before the year started, this would have been viewed as a disaster waiting to happen. Now, maybe not so much.
Sergio Agüero, Manchester City:
Okay, so maybe one of these guys is on a par with Suárez. The fact that Agüero makes this list as a member of a team boasting as much firepower as Manchester City serves as a testament to his brilliance. When he’s healthy, he’s a nightmare for any team. When he’s on his game, he’s simply unplayable.
The key is the healthy part. In the last 3 years, Agüero has played less and less minutes per year, and yet he is still firing at a Premier League record rate. A perfect encapsulation of this was in the first game of this season, when Agüero came on for the last 8 minutes of the game against Newcastle and scored. He’s got 14 goals in (technically) 15 Premier League games, a mind-boggling rate. That’s not even counting his European conquests, which include him beating arguably the best team on earth, Bayern Munich, almost single-handedly.
When he hobbled off the field in the 6th minute two weekends ago, City just managed to just about pip by Everton 1-0. This weekend, same story, same scoreline against a much worse Leicester team. It just feels as though the catalyst and soul of the team has gone missing over the last two weeks, which will surely represent disturbing thoughts for the reigning Premier League champions. The sparkling Argentinian isn’t expected to be back until January. For City, and fans of radiant football everywhere, fingers are crossed for a full recovery.