Why the in-form Anfield pair have the edge over Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney as the top flight’s most dangerous duo
By Wayne Veysey
EVEN MAN UNITED’S FRONT PAIR BOW TO BRILLIANCE OF THE SAS
In an era of lone spearheads, false nines and 4-2-3-1 formations, the traditional strike partnership had appeared obselete.
But the stunning impact of the Luis Suarez-Daniel Sturridge alliance has ignited an unexpected debate: are the Liverpool front pair the best of their kind in the Premier League?
The stiffest competition comes from Manchester, where United and City, Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge notwithstanding, are the only other two top-tier clubs who prefer to deploy a genuine second striker rather than the kaleidoscope of attacking midfielders that is de rigeur for the modern coach.
In Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, United have a front pair to strike fear into any defence. Both are thoroughbreds whose track records bear the closest scrutiny.
Across the city, there are too many sky blue-chip forward options to justify a regular front duo even if Sergio Aguero, the club’s pre-eminent assassin, has already formed an appetising partnership with Alvaro Negredo.
Yet, there is growing evidence to suggest that it is Merseyside, and not Manchester, that is home to England’s most potent strike force.
On statistics alone, the Anfield combination lead the way. In the five matches since Luis Suarez returned from his 10-match ban, the Uruguayan has scored six goals and Sturridge four, an eye-catching ratio of two per game. In total, Sturridge has scored 10 from 11 this season and the pair have shared 16 goals from 16 matches.
At United, Van Persie and Rooney have shared 14 goals from 22 games, with the Dutchman leading the club’s scoring charts with eight from 11. Aguero and Negredo have also scored 14 between them, from 25 matches, with the Argentine’s exocet at Chelsea on Sunday his 10th of the season.
Liverpool’s SAS partnership have recorded impressive numbers over the last month, albeit from a small sample of games. But it is the sublimeness of their play together that is sparking the imagination.
Brendan Rodgers has enterprisingly built his team around his two most dangerous attackers, with three centre-backs and wing-backs pushing on providing the base for Suarez and Sturridge to wander anywhere in the final third to create mayhem.
Suarez is a force of nature and a player of unquestionable excellence who, on current form, stands above Rooney, Van Persie, Aguero, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and the rest as the best player in the Premier League. From his magnificently executed hat-trick against West Brom on Saturday, it is still difficult to nominate the more awe-inspiring goal – the 17-yard bullet header or the magical opener, in which he tickled the ball between Jonas Olsson’s legs as if it was a playground kickabout.
Sturridge, 24, is cast in the role of young apprentice alongside the masterly Suarez, but what a revelation he is proving to be at Liverpool.
The Englishman lacks his strike partner’s aggression but his quick feet, pace and short backlift are being supplemented by increasingly composed finishing. His majestic chipped goal against West Brom was millimetre perfect – had he got his geometry wrong an inch either way it would not have feathered the back of the net.
Sturridge and Suarez cannot be as easily pigeonholed as their United counterparts, where Rooney is predominantly the provider and Van Persie the finisher.
Rooney has played further forward under David Moyes this season, which has made him a greater threat in the penalty box, but his role is largely that of the creative No. 10 anticipating the Dutchman’s arrowing runs.
Liverpool great Alan Hansen claimed on Match of the Day that, from a defender’s point of view, Van Persie-Rooney would be the most difficult partnership to shackle.
However, it is the Suarez-Sturridge combination which is the hardest for Premier League defences to contain at the moment. Such is their versatility, improvisation and eye for the spectacular, they are transforming an average Liverpool team into one capable of winning trophies.
By contrast, Rooney and Van Persie have shone simultaneously only fleetingly during their 14 months in alliance at Old Trafford. One can always be counted upon to make a match-winning contribution, but rarely do they both do so in the same fixture.
Suarez is an exceptional player and Sturridge a mighty fine one getting better by the week. To be mentioned in the same breath as the great Liverpool strike partnerships such as Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush, John Toshack and Kevin Keegan, Michael Owen and Emile Heskey, and Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, Anfield’s 2013-14 twin totems must be as productive in the marquee matches, and against the bigger teams.
It is one thing burning brightly against Crystal Palace, Sunderland and West Brom. It is another to turn games on their head against title challengers and Champions League calibre clubs.
There is the sense that the Uruguayan’s impatience and roving eye will prematurely call a halt to the pair’s alliance, although that will certainly not be before the end of the season as the Liverpool hierarchy will resist any offers for their prize asset in January.
For now, we should all sit back and enjoy what Suarez and Sturridge have to offer.
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