Brendan Rodgers will have a serious dilemma on his hands heading into Saturday's fixture away against Manchester United.
Liverpool's principal aim this season is to finish in the top four in the Premier League and qualify for the Champions League. It will by no means be a straightforward task, and Manchester United could be the Reds' main rivals for fourth spot.
Despite being over seven months away from the end of the 2015/16 campaign, Saturday's result between the two North West rivals could prove pivotal come the league standings in May.
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Liverpool have not had all that bad of a start to the season. It's difficult to have a positive word about the 3-0 home defeat against West Ham prior to the international break but, hopefully, that can be scratched off like a bad day at the office.
Seven points from four games, which included an away trip to Arsenal; Liverpool are where many pundits expected them to be thus far.
Lack of improvement
However, despite spending a king's ransom in the summer transfer market, there does need to be big improvements in the final third of the pitch.
Rodgers' men have netted just two goals from their opening four games. Christian Benteke's solo goal in the victory against Bournemouth shouldn't have even counted as Philippe Coutinho was in a blatant offside position.
Benteke joined Liverpool for £32.5 million from Aston Villa last month. Given the hefty price tag paid for the Belgium international and that he was Rodgers’ main summer target, Kopites want to see Benteke hit the ground running much sooner rather than later.
Doubts have surrounded whether the 24-year-old can adapt at Anfield. He was, at Villa, a target man who thrived when crosses were fired towards him from wide areas, and he could use his aerial attributes to his strengths.
However, with Rodgers encouraging quick, counter-attacking football at Liverpool that is played with pace, Benteke has not been all that inspiring. His miss from less than six yards against Arsenal was particularly frustrating to watch – it was a chance you would not expect an eight-year-old to miss. Yes, the save from Petr Cech was magnificent but the chance should have been buried.
Benteke does have to be given a little bit of time to settle at Anfield. After all, he is changing his style completely. However, following the loss against West Ham and the disappointing effort last campaign, where Liverpool finished a lacklustre sixth in the league, Rodgers wants results – and fast.
Liverpool’s rivalry with Manchester United is recognised across the globe and, for many Kopites, it is the one game more than any that they do not want to lose.
Benteke has not stamped his authority at the Reds and not dominated defenders as he did so often at Villa.
Rodgers will also be without Coutinho in Greater Manchester after he was sent-off against West Ham.
He’s continued his fine form from last season into this campaign and has been inspirational thus far. It is a massive loss to Liverpool, but Rodgers will have to plan masterfully for the match in the absence of his star player.
Bringing back Daniel
Heading into Saturday’s match against the Red Devils, Rodgers must be tempted to recall Daniel Sturridge, who is back in full training.
Sturridge’s 2014/15 season was unfortunately disrupted with an injury. He spent almost the entire campaign on the sidelines with various injuries and recently underwent rehabilitation in the US to overcome a hip injury.
The England international is back in full training with Liverpool and has returned much quicker than expected. At one point, it was thought that Sturridge would not be back in the first-team set-up until at least near Christmas. However, the striker has had a very speedy recovery and looks on the verge of once again making his mark on Rodgers’ side.
Following his £12 million move from Chelsea in 2013, Sturridge has been prolific for the Reds. His goalscoring record at Anfield is incredible having netted 40 goals from 67 appearances and formed an infamous partnership with Luis Suarez.
Injuries have always halted Sturridge’s progress and have been a primary reason he has never be considered top-class.
Liverpool will be hoping the Birmingham-born forward’s injury miseries are behind him. However, it would be both silly and naïve to start him at Old Trafford.
Sturridge has had the best treatment possible at Boston Red Sox's facilities during the summer months and they have hopefully helped strengthen the ex-Manchester City striker.
Nonetheless, coming back in a heated game against Manchester United is far from the ideal situation to return. There’s no doubt that there will be several high flying challenges being thrown at the Theatre Of Dreams on Saturday evening, and tensions will be elevated.
The healthiest of players who never complain about injury unless it’s serious will be targeted – so imagine how Sturridge would be. He may as well paint a target on his body and wait to suffer a robust (and maybe late) challenge from one of Louis van Gaal’s men.
Saturday’s match is huge for Rodgers, and it could well have a significant bearing on the league outcome after 38 games. However, in the bigger picture, it would be an impractical and insane move to include even Sturridge in Liverpool’s 18 man squad. The temptation will be there is he is sitting on the bench, and the Reds find themselves one behind with 15 minutes remaining.
Instead, Sturridge should be left on Merseyside. In the grand scheme of things, Rodgers would benefit much more from having the striker available in the future. If Liverpool lose on Saturday, there is plenty of time to make up lost ground. If the Reds get three points and sacrifice Sturridge for a significant amount of time, then Rodgers could well shoot himself in the foot.
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