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Monday 11 December 2017

Ronnie Whelan: New SAS lifts Liverpool

Sturridge comeback gives Sterling wings

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge reacts during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United
Liverpool's Raheem Sterling

BRENDAN Rodgers can heave a big sigh of relief. Daniel Sturridge delivered on demand for him and has the capacity to secure Liverpool's season.

More important than anything else apart from his goals, Sturridge allows Raheem Sterling to return to the position where he excelled last season and suddenly, Liverpool look threatening again.

So it's a new SAS, Sterling instead of Luis Suarez and it hold plenty of potential for the future but let's not go overboard about 22 minutes from one player even if Sturridge opened up a whole range of possibilities just by being on the pitch.

His movement alone made Mario Balotelli look like a lamppost and showed just how bad a signing he was. He has done nothing for Liverpool or Brendan Rodgerts.

Rodgers has clawed his way back from a bad place and restored some confidence but he needs to crack on now and build on the signs of progress seen in the last few weeks.

Liverpool have not lost a game in regulation time since December 14 and of course, that is to be welcomed but Rodgers still has an awful lot of work to do to bring his team back to where they were up until the last few weeks of last season.

The big question everyone asked and answered during that awful spell in November when Liverpool lost four on the trot and exited the Champions League in, shall we say, disappointing circumstances, was whether Luis Suarez took the heart and soul of Rodgers' team away with him when he left for Barcelona.

ACCURATE

The evidence seemed overwhelming that this was an accurate assessment but I think Sturridge's performance in such a brief cameo showed that it was not entirely correct. His return has allowed Rodgers to change the way he thinks about his team.

I'm not for one minute going to suggest that this solves all Rodgers problems. If anything, it brings Liverpool back to where they were in July when Suarez left and if Sturridge was unfortunate enough to pull a hamstring, the manager would be back in the mire again.

So if anything, Sturridge's return simply highlights the fact that for quite a few games in November, Rodgers and Liverpool were thrashing around trying to find a way out of a hole.

I could see no way out of it and at the time, thought that the idea of a Champions League qualifying finish was impossible.

Now, it's just unlikely but at least Sturridge offers hope. His strike rate is so good that you would expect him to chip in with maybe ten goals between now and May. There's still the FA and Europa Cups.

The Europa Cup offers Champions League football to the winner so that must become a serious target and with Sturridge back firing again, not an insurmountable challenge.

Sturridge's biggest strength is that he is an instinctive striker who understands how to play the role as a centre-forward. Neither Mario Balotelli nor Rickie Lambert was able to deliver that fundamental requirement so everything Rodgers tried to do to rescue a bad situation was predicated on that.

But there's much more to Sturridge than simply someone who knows where to be when chances arise. He is also creative and dangerous because he can attack from deep and bring Sterling and lads like Jordan Henderson into the game because of the space he creates.

Both he and Sterling are very difficult to mark because they play in the area which defenders and midfielders share. This gives Rodgers options and a route out of trouble.

I wouldn't be falling over myself to congratulate Rodgers on turning a corner, however. As I said, Sturridge has the ability to lift the team if he stays fit and at last the rest of the season allows room for optimism.

But Rodgers got into this awful mess last summer and ended up with a threadbare squad when it came to finding goals but he's worked his way out of it.

What worried me was the way he persisted with Balotelli when a child could have told him that it wouldn't work out. If anything, Rodgers' attempts to accommodate him made the team worse.

Right up to the turn of the year Rodgers was defending Balotelli and his last comments on the subject suggested that he would continue to do so.

Then we heard Balotelli's agent suggesting that the player would die at Anfield unless someone was willing to spend £60m on him. I know many Liverpool fans didn't find those words very comforting at all.

Now, Rodgers seems to have seen the light where Balotelli is concerned and I don't expect to see much more of him this season.

The fact remains that Liverpool's season rests on keeping Sturridge fit and Rodgers should never have allowed that situation to happen.

Perhaps it would be accurate to say that Liverpool's transfer committee should never have allowed that to happen and I hope everyone has learned a hard lesson in all of this.

Liverpool still need three or four high quality footballers and that means investing another £100m this summer. The obvious priority is strikers but they still struggle at the back even if the last month has seen some clean sheets.

With Steven Gerrard on the way out, Rodgers will need a marquee signing in midfield because no matter how much Sturridge can raise spirits, he cannot run the show and Liverpool do not have anyone capable of that waiting to take over.

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