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Sturridge & Suarez: A Very Individual Partnership

Liverpool's dreams of Champions League football have been forged in the fire created by the goals of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez, the two men Brendan Rodgers somewhat contradictorily insists are not a "partnership."

Not a partnership? Well how about this combination to show the Everton fans what they think of them?
Not a partnership? Well how about this combination to show the Everton fans what they think of them?
Laurence Griffiths

From the inventive sleuthing of Holmes and Watson to the sublime tune-Smithery of Marr and Morrissey and even the haplessly flawed attempts at world domination by Pinky and The Brain, all the greatest partnerships are based on individuals that could not be more different but whose unique chemistry as a pairing blends their two idiosyncratic talents into a potent and efficacious combination.

What, after all, constitutes a partnership? Must there be mutual respect or love? It might be preferable perhaps, but it is not a pre-requisite. On the set of that most saccharine of Hollywood romance dramas, An Officer and a Gentleman, Richard Gere and Debra Winger shocked the crew with their vicious bickering and yet successive generations have somehow been convinced by their on-screen amour. All that partners need do to be considered a great duo is function excellently on one level or serve one aim better as a pair than they would otherwise do as lone operators.

If the purpose of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez's partnership is the scoring of goals, then by Fowler, it has been a spectacular success. There has been much pompous pontification and  supercilious braying on the topic of how these two wonderful footballers have performed as a pair. Statistics have been presented to suit agendas and there are those who would insist that Liverpool's first team would be better served with only one of it's prolific marksmen in the side at any given time.

Brendan Rodgers himself is at pains to point out that the accommodation of both men in the team presents a logistical and organisational conundrum to him as a manager, but in reality is there really any discussion to be had if both are fit and available? Granted, Sturridge was remarkable in Suarez's absence as the season started and Suarez has excelled to new levels of multi-scoring magnificence when the England man was injured, but how can any manager resist the dual threat posed by these special talents in tandem?

Cast to one side the many seasons of top flight coaching and system implementation you've amassed on Football Manager, shun for a moment your encyclopedic knowledge of midfield diamonds and the folly of employing trequartistas, and ask yourself a reality-based question, dear reader. With Liverpool in possession of the Wonka Golden Ticket that is fourth place in the Premier League, would you leave one of our twin terrors on the bench in the pursuit of systemic purity? No, neither would I.

Following the spectacular inertia of the transfer window, Liverpool have embarked upon the second half of this most promising campaign with no reinforcements to swell their depleted ranks and provide additional strength. This means, effectively, that when fit, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling will play, as they are the three most effective attackers in the squad. The drop-off in quality to the potential replacements is so steep that one winces to think of it.

This stark reality places all the hand-wringing about effective partnerships firmly in perspective. It really does come down to playing the best available players and choosing the individuals most likely to score the goals which fire the club back into the European elite. With a hugely impressive 14 goals in 16 league games for Sturridge and an eye-watering 23 strikes in 19 appearances for Suarez, there is surely only one statistic that matters in this discussion.

For his part, the manager takes a slightly contrary stance on the concept of the two strikers as a duo. In a way that one would perhaps not expect from a man who is usually at pains to be humble in the media, Brendan Rodgers seems to feel the need to stress the centrality of his own role in making the team functional with two maverick 'individuals' in the side. His observations are very interesting for Liverpool fans who have often watched the lack of midfield and defensive cohesion behind the front two from between the fingers of the hand clasped over their eyes.

"Their job is to create and score goals and they are doing that remarkably well," Rodgers told the Echo. "Both are outstanding talents but they aren’t the partnership that everyone goes on about. They are different types of players who fit into a system. What we have is two individuals with qualities which are different. Both have a desire to score goals but they are not your  traditional partnership. I see them as two very talented players we are looking to integrate into a team structure. My job is to fit them into the team."

Stressing how having these two free-scoring forwards presents a headache for their team mates and for him as the man tasked with the tactical planning, the manager praised the fact that both Suarez and Sturridge have bought-into what is required of them, but simultaneously pointed out that as free-spirits and "floating" players they can often present added stresses for those in a supporting role.

"There is a lot of tactical thinking that goes on behind them," Rodgers said. "3-5-2 is a system we can play but it’s not one I prefer to play because of the space you offer up the sides. I like to have superiority in the middle of the field. Both Luis and Daniel can play on the sides, but when one of them does we give them the freedom to move and penetrate, especially Daniel because his penetration is so fast and that’s a key part of the game for us. They interchange because they are floating players anyway and their movement is really dynamic.

"When they haven’t got the ball they have to work like animals as there is a big responsibility on them to defend that side of the field. Behind that we just need to ensure that tactically we can block and cover the spaces. That’s something that Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson did so well against Everton. I’ll always go with an offensive mindset but there always has to be tactical discipline. They all have to buy into the team and we’ve seen that during my time here. The team is a work in progress, I don’t set it up just for Luis and Daniel. It’s about good players and maximising their talents. At this moment in time as we have evolved as a team and got better they have grown with it as well."

If the manager is not exactly effusive in his praise it is perhaps understandable, given the complexity of the task facing him. Whether he will admit it or not, Rodgers has set the team up around getting Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge into the line up whenever possible. Clearly, something about the lack of overall cohesion displeases the Northern Irishman, and he may have a very valid point. Like us fans, however, he will no doubt endure the slightly misshapen look of his onfield set-up and suffer the often porous quality of our midfield. Aesthetics be damned. What could be more beautiful than the goals of these two remarkable strikers easing Liverpool Football Club back onto it's proper stage in Europe?

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