Manchester United are the only team to have prevented either Liverpool forward from scoring in their five electrifying games together, though their brilliance is mainly individual
By George Ankers
Five games, 10 goals. Some feared that the return of Luis Suarez from his suspension might have inhibited Daniel Sturridge’s scintillating early-season form but a switch by Brendan Rodgers to a 3-5-2 system has turned the pair into the Premier League’s hottest strike partnership.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, whose side are the only team so far to have stopped the pair from scoring in a 1-0 Capital One Cup win on the Uruguayan’s return, feels that it is too early for the duo to be showered with such praise. He may be right – inheriting Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s ‘SAS’ title may be premature with only a handful of games together in this form – but that does not make the task of stopping them any easier for Arsenal on Saturday.
In the age of the lone striker, Rodgers’s reshuffle to allow both men to prey where they play best has paid dividends. Whereas last season Sturridge was used more on the flank during his bedding-in period, in their games together in 2013-14 the two have occupied a very similar average position just right of centre.
Though both have freedom to indulge themselves and move away from there into wherever they can find space, each tends to skew away from that average position in a slightly different direction and performs slightly different roles.
Sturridge’s heat maps see him dropping deeper to pick up the ball, often back in his own half, as he receives possession to his feet in front of the opposition back four. Against West Brom on Saturday, the England star received 46 of 49 passes in front of the penalty box. By comparison, Suarez only received 40 of 48 that far back, with more license to attack the channels, in particular the left, from where he scored two of his three goals.
This is reflected in their attacking statistics. According to Whoscored.com, Suarez has been offside 1.8 times per game in the Premier League so far, compared to Sturridge’s 0.8, demonstrating the former’s likelihood to be the furthest man forward.
The Uruguayan’s bloodthirsty attacking zeal is also demonstrated in his dribbling stats – 3.3 per game compared to his partner’s 2.2, and his 5.8 shots per game against Sturridge’s 3.5. Suarez also offers extra strength on the ball which makes him a slightly more ruthless, relentless machine. For all his extra dribbling, he is only dispossessed on average twice per game compared to 3.1 times for the Englishman.
Though this divergence nominally makes Sturridge more likely to create for Suarez, there is, however, little difference in terms of one providing for the other. Paired together, Sturridge has laid on four chances for the Uruguayan, with two converted, while the other way around has yielded one goal from three opportunities created.
Despite the deadliness of their partnership, it is not their interaction particularly which makes them dangerous. Passes between the two do not reach double figures either way in any given game. Largely, each is fed by other team-mates and their individual brilliance does the rest.
What all this means for Arsenal is that there is no obvious supply line between the two that they can aim to cut in order to break the spell of their combination. The ‘SAS’ are not more than the sum of their parts, it is just that their parts are of the highest quality.
Even Manchester United, who kept both of them off the scoresheet in their cup win, did not dominate especially or mark them out of the game. Had it not been Suarez’s first game back after suspension, the Uruguayan would probably have finished at least one of the chances that he spurned.
With no obvious template to follow, then, the Gunners need to be sure that they get the basics right. They have momentum going for them, allied to in-form goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and a strong pair of defenders – particularly Per Mertesacker – who may fare better than most at outmuscling Suarez on his dribbles.
The absence of Mathieu Flamini with injury is a severe blow as a dedicated defensive midfielder dropping deep to supplement a back line most used to dealing with lone frontmen would have been a sensible precaution to take – however, in what may simply but effectively be the best counter to the supremacy of Suarez and Sturridge, they also have a genuine ability to outscore Liverpool themselves.
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