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Toothless Attack Makes for a Daunting December

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Liverpool may have had problems at the back on Sunday against Hull, but heading into a busy December the real worry may be farther forward, where Sturridge and Coutinho's absence left the attack toothless.

Matthew Lewis

Along with changing things up at the back, Sunday's horror-show of a loss against Hull City saw Liverpool changing things up further forward with little good coming of it. After spending most of the season trying to figure out how to fit both Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez into Brendan Rodgers' system, it was a return to something of the 4-3-3 the manager arrived at Liverpool with two summers ago.

It also meant a return to the starting eleven for loanee Victor Moses and promising youngster Raheem Sterling, neither of whom looked anywhere near up to the task on Sunday afternoon. Liverpool rarely probed on the wings, and when they did neither had the beating of their man and were notably wasteful in possession. Mostly, though, the duo stayed wide and anonymous.

Philippe Coutinho, either by cutting in to provide central support or by starting in the middle, was the most obvious miss for Liverpool on the day, and his second half introduction brought with it the small handful of positive attacking moves the visitors managed. Less obviously, the loss of Sturridge may have had just as big an impact on Saturday's disappointing showing.

Removing another player who would have occupied defenders in the central areas generally meant Hull could focus all their efforts on Suarez and left the striker isolated. A game Henderson may have been willing to push forward at times, but it wasn't enough—especially with Steven Gerrard mostly content to hang back in a double-pivot on an afternoon screaming for him to be pushed forward.

With Liverpool's defending often looking shaky, it's easy to point to issues at the back for Sunday's poor showing and result, but the more difficult problem may lie further forward where Sturridge and Coutinho being absent left Suarez painfully isolated and Gerrard once again showed that at this stage in his career, marauding forward isn't a regular part of his toolkit.

Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger, with the former a surprising choice to start on the bench when Rodgers instead chose to reintroduce Kolo Toure and rest Agger, are both likely to feature prominently moving forward, but options are sparser up front. Luckily for Liverpool, after appearing in the second half, Coutinho should be ready to go on Wednesday against Norwich.

After learning how to live with two strikers, though, adjusting to life with one until Sturridge returns some time in the new year is a heavy blow. And relying on Coutinho to make the side click during a busy December spell is worrying. Even if he does stay healthy, Sunday sent a clear signal to future opponents that if you stop Liverpool's little Brazilian, the club's formerly high-flying attack stalls, crashes, and burns.

With Sturridge around, such targeted defending becomes more difficult. With how poorly Moses and Sterling played against Hull, with the likes of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen being high energy but not especially deadly attacking players, and with Steven Gerrard a deep lying fixture, Liverpool could be facing a far tougher December than they were already expecting if Rodgers can't fashion a solution.