His brand of football at Swansea had excited and impressed onlookers up and down the country. They’d not only taken some sizeable scalps, but they did it with some style and a great deal of panache.
So the natural optimism from many of us was that that’s what we could expect. Despite a few brief glimpses, and the odd largely impressive game which lacked that deadly touch, it has thus far been much like last season under Kenny.
What we were witness to against Norwich City on Saturday afternoon though, was the culmination of 11 players all finally seeming to understand what was expected of them in unison.
While we obviously can’t demand a performance of that magnitude every week (nor will we get it – Norwich are utterly dire), we can still expect that kind of effort and passion from the players every week. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what was lacking in the first half against Man Utd last Sunday and what’s been lacking in many of the ‘clashes’ against the sides in the top half of the table.
It’s all well and good destroying sides in the bottom half, but that level of performance needs to be transferred into the tighter games too. We’ve seen performances this season – most notably against Spurs and Manchester City – that were, on the whole, highly impressive but lacked that extra effort and same level of clinical finishing we saw on Saturday.
But I believe that, in Daniel Sturridge, we may well have found that different dimension that will give us the edge going into the second-half of the season.
In three games so far, the England striker has struck three times, as well as throwing a dummy Norwich’s way on Saturday afternoon that may as well have been an assist.
His pace, vision, and the fact that he and Suarez are already beginning to show an understanding that the club could be reaping benefits from for years to come, have given us something else. Against Mansfield, his first 20 minutes were very good, but his lack of match fitness began to show as the first-half wore on.
Having been wrongly benched for the North-West derby in Manchester last Sunday, he came off the bench to completely alter the game. His goal and the way he stretched United’s decidedly dodgy back line left many of us to wonder ‘what if.. ‘, and I think that even the manager himself would admit that he made the wrong call in picking Downing ahead of him last weekend.
With Sturridge in the side, we also have that extra something up front which we haven’t had since the days of Fowler and Owen: a natural poacher. He likes to come wide and drop deep, much like our Uruguayan genius, but as he showed for Liverpool’s third at Anfield on Saturday, he will always be in front of goal when a loose ball needs tucking away.
In those games where we were beginning to rely too heavily on a bit of magic from Suarez to edge in front, we now know that a second ball from a corner or a mix up in the box could result in our new ‘fox-in-the-box’ nicking a goal.
For the last 18 months we’ve seen from great performances from Suarez to work the ball into the box, only to look up and find that there’s no support and that very simply fact has cost us games. Hopefully, now that will change.
There’s a cup game in a week, in which I’m sure that Sturridge will feature in some capacity and I think it’ll be a good idea to give him a run-out, even if for just 45 minutes to help boost his fitness and confidence even more.
We then follow cup tie with a very crucial trip to the Emirates just three days later and given the Gunners indifferent form for much of this season, it could be a good time to show that we have more about us than just stuffing awful, destined-for-the-Championship teams and we can relegate the growing ‘flat-track-bullies’ tag to history and kick on with attempting to gate-crash the Champions League get-together.
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