The recent news that Fabio Borini is out for a few months with an injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Liverpool. While the Italian has only scored once this season, his absence means that the Reds now have just one senior striker in Luis Suarez to see them through until the January transfer window opens. It is time for the rest of team to start chipping in with some goals to ease the burden on the mercurial Uruguayan, but with two of the three forward positions currently being taken up by inexperienced teenagers Raheem Sterling and Spanish starlet Suso, is that a realistic proposition?
It has to be assumed that, form and fitness permitting, from now until January at least, Suso and Sterling will be playing regularly in the Premier League for the Reds in two of the three forward positions that Brendan Rodgers selects. The only viable replacements for their starting positions right now are Oussama Assaidi, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole. Assaidi has been understandably hit and miss so far as he tries to get up to speed with English football. This leaves Downing and Cole. The funny thing is that given their age, pedigree, experience and expense to the club, Cole and Downing should be in the starting eleven every week for Liverpool with the likes of Suso and Sterling providing the back up rather than the other way round.
Cole should be ahead of Suso in the pecking order given his standing in the game and what he has accomplished, but his woeful injury record, lack of any match fitness what so ever and his form when compared to Suso’s, suggests that the former England international will have to be content with being understudy to the kid from Cadiz who is 12 years his junior. On the opposite flank of Liverpool’s attacking trio, it is equally hard to see Downing displacing Sterling despite his extra experience in the Premier League and his numerous England caps. Downing should be a prominent player for Liverpool right now. He cost £20m, he is in the prime of his career, he has scored goals for his previous clubs on a fairly regular basis and Liverpool need goals and experience desperately at this moment. However, he has proven himself so unwilling to take responsibility in a red shirt that it is inconceivable that he could start ahead of Sterling in the first team as things stand. It is a damning indictment on two players in their prime who have cost Liverpool so much money, that two relatively unknown kids should bear the brunt of the club’s goalscoring responsibility. The Reds need goals and, regardless of age, they are to be expected from players in the forward positions.
Sterling has shown at youth level that he can score regularly from wide areas and even scored for the first team in pre season. This season in the Premier League though, he has only attempted 3 shots, which were all off target. It’s easy to expect that as his confidence and experience continue to grow, his efforts at goal will become more frequent and accurate, but regular goals in the senior side still seem a way off.
Suso, since his introduction to the first team, has shown that he keeps the ball exceptionally well and is technically proficient but goals or even serious attempted shots have evaded him for the most part. He has though, only played 171 Premier League minutes so far and to judge his potential as a goal scorer on such a small sample isn’t fair. However, when we look at his record at reserve level, he scored just eight times in the last two seasons and that does not suggest that we can expect a regular stream of goals from him either. In short, neither of the two young prodigies seem likely to enrich the current Liverpool team with an influx of goals in the near future. But that really isn’t their fault.
It is unfortunate for Suso and Sterling that because of the circumstances they find themselves in, pressure is going to be on them almost immediately to provide Liverpool with a decent number of goals. In an ideal world, both teenagers would be introduced into the first team in a way that would limit the pressure on them. Playing the odd Premier League game and making appearances in the League Cup and Europa League is presumably how Brendan Rodgers would have preferred to acclimatise his two young stars to the trials of first team football. However, because of the failings of players like Downing and Cole, the injuries to players like Borini and the lack of summer signings, Suso and Sterling are now not only players that Liverpool fans will expect to see in the team every weekend, but a pair of players who will be expected to get on the score sheet.
This is the downside to seeing such exciting talent emerge at Anfield these days. Suso and Sterling need to be playing free of pressure and allowed to express themselves without the burden of the teams results weighing too heavily on their inexperienced shoulders. Instead, these two rookies will have major expectations from the club’s fans almost right away. It is not ideal and it could be detrimental to their progress if too much is demanded too soon.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored just three goals in his debut season at Sporting Lisbon and in his first Premier League season he only scored four goals in 29 appearances for Manchester United. Andres Iniesta at Barcelona scored two goals in his first two full seasons despite making 70 starts in La Liga for the Catalan giants. Ronaldo now scores a goal a game and Iniesta scores between five and 10 a season. End product is seldom consistently evident in young attacking players and while Reds fans are desperate for their team to starting winning and scoring goals, frustrations must not be aimed at two talents who need nurturing.
If goals are still at a premium over the coming weeks and months then the blame will lie with whoever’s decision it was not to bring in an experienced striker to replace Andy Carroll. The blame will lie with under performing expensive players who have scored goals in the past but now seem happy to sit on the side lines and pick up their wages. The blame may even lie with the manager’s tactics. But the blame should not be attributed to a pair of talented kids who are finding their feet in the Premier League. Patience is a virtue, after all.
Can Suso and Raheem Sterling emerge as goal-scoring midfielders in the Liverpool team? Are Joe Cole and Stewart Downing doing enough? Who is to blame for the team’s lack of goals? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.