By David Lynch
Scoring a goal just seven minutes into your debut is usually enough to grab the headlines at most clubs, but that inevitably did not prove to the case as Daniel Sturridge made his Liverpool bow on Sunday afternoon.
The 23-year-old was handed his first start as the Reds took on Mansfield Town in the FA Cup and wasted no time in underlining why he might still prove a bargain even at £12 million.
The manner in which the Englishman latched onto Jonjo Shelvey’s well-weighted through ball before directing a controlled right-footed finish beyond Alan Marriott gave an early glimpse of the ability which Liverpool fans hope to see coaxed out of their new striker on a weekly basis.
The former Chelsea man spent just 48 additional minutes on the pitch following that opener, but provided plenty of further encouragement for his new employers regarding their most recent investment. His link-up play did not tally with the accusations of selfishness so often aimed in his direction, while only further good work from Marriott prevented him grabbing a second strike after another clever run.
In fact, the only disappointing aspect of Sturridge’s first appearance in a red shirt was that, due to a lack of match fitness, he was withdrawn to be replaced by Luis Suarez with 56 minutes on the clock.
Much has been made this week of the tactical reshuffle which may need to take place in order for the pair to dovetail at the sharp end of the pitch, though an opportunity to see the blueprints of a new-look attack was denied the fans on this occasion.
Regardless, Brendan Rodgers might well have pinched himself on the sidelines as he replaced one senior centre-forward with another, a luxury he has been deprived of ever since Fabio Borini’s broken foot limited options which were already in short supply due to the failure to replace Andy Carroll in the summer.
Of course, ever since that devastating injury hit a paper-thin attack, Suarez has undoubtedly been the player tasked with single-handedly carrying the burden of a goal-shy Liverpool team. And, even in the less-than illustrious surroundings of Field Mill, the Uruguayan continued his season-long one-man show with the now typical smattering of controversy he so regularly provides.
The 26-year-old blatantly handled before turning the ball home just four minutes into his cameo – a goal which would prove decisive following Matt Green’s late strike. Clearly, the nature of the caustic reaction to this latest misdemeanour owes much to Suarez’s past reputation, but the Salto-born striker just cannot seem to avoid the limelight no matter how hard he tries.
This has so often been a plus point for Rodgers’ side this term, with the usual poisonous judgements passed up in favour of effusive praise thanks to some marvellous recent performances. But the way in which the ball simply seemed destined for Suarez’s hand as it bounced up in the melee says it all; he has been cast as the villain and must take on his role for better or for worse.
In purely footballing terms though, such pantomime irrelevancies are exactly that. Liverpool sealed progression to the next round of the FA Cup and saw both of their strikers get on the scoresheet ahead of an enticing Premier League trip to Old Trafford – that is all their manager will think of this week.
Admittedly, the differences between facing a side who sit ninth in the Conference and taking on a team atop the English football ladder could not be starker. But if Liverpool’s frontmen provide all the talking points – and, more importantly, all the goals – next time round then Reds fans are certain to be happy again.
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