Brendan Rodgers says he intends to give Daniel Sturridge “every chance” to feature for Liverpool in the Merseyside derby against Everton on Saturday. Sturridge hasn’t appeared for his club since suffering a thigh injury while on international duty at the start of September and, while it has been long hoped that he would return in time for the lunchtime kickoff against Liverpool’s local rivals, Rodgers said his participation remains very much in doubt.
“We've got a number of injuries that we're just going to give every chance to,” he said, reports Liverpool’s official website. “Obviously the game is 48 hours away. “[Sturridge] is a player who is out on the field working. Daniel and a number of others we'll assess nearer the time. If he doesn't make it, then he won't be far off after that. He certainly won't be match fit - he hasn't played for a few weeks. But it would be great to have him back because he's a wonderful player for us.”
Rodgers’ comments suggest that Sturridge may be reduced, at best, to a place on the substitute’s bench. It was the same situation when the sides met at Goddison Park last November, when, again returning from a thigh injury suffered while away with England, he came off the bench and scored. There is little doubting the boost that Sturridge would provide to the red half of Merseyside should he be available in any capacity on Saturday.
Sturridge last turned out for Liverpool in an impressive 3-0 victory at Tottenham at the end of August and Rodgers’ men have struggled painfully since. While Liverpool scraped a win against Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets, thanks to an injury-time penalty, to begin their Champions League campaign, they have lost both Premier League outings -- against Aston Villa and West Ham -- scoring just once in the process. On Tuesday they required the longest penalty shootout in League Cup history to get past Championship side Middlesbrough at home.
Shorn of their prolific top two goalscorers of last season, Liverpool have looked a shadow of the threat going forward. New signings like Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert have yet to find their feet, with Mario Balotelli also still to sparkle. Raheem Sterling has looked easily the team’s most impressive attacking option, so much so that he was kept on for the full 120 minutes against Middlesbrough. Although Rodgers insists the 19-year-old will be fine for Saturday, it is hardly ideal preparation and further calls into question why he was left out for the Premier League defeat to Aston Villa.
The blunting of Liverpool’s attacking edge has brought further exposure upon Liverpool’s continued defensive problems. Despite the big-money arrival of Dejan Lovren, Liverpool have arguably regressed at the back thus far this season. Particularly troubling has been the set piece defending, which has led to goals conceded against Aston Villa, West Ham and Middlesbrough.
The good news for Liverpool is that their neighbors across Stanley Park look even more vulnerable at the back. Indeed, Everton have conceded 17 goals in just seven matches this season, which is a dramatic departure for a team that had the third best defensive record in the Premier League last season. While Liverpool lie a disappointing 11th with just six points, Everton are a point and three places worse off. It is a match that neither can afford to lose and both will be desperate to win.
After such an impressive first season under Roberto Martinez, Everton have lost more games than they’ve won in all competitions this season, including a 3-0 reversal at Swansea City in the Capital One Cup in midweek. At the heart of those results has been a decline in the previously solid partnership of Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka. And in their last Premier League outing, goalkeeper Tim Howard made two costly errors in a 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace. Martinez has admitted that improvement at the back is necessary, but does not believe there is any need to worry about the veteran American goalkeeper.
“I am not concerned. If it was a young goalkeeper or someone who has not got the experience maybe you can think about how he could get affected by these experiences,” he said, reports the Daily Mail. “But Tim is in the best moment of his career. The experience he has, he knows how to control every single performance that he has. Those moments happen and we need to address them. But that’s not just with the keeper, we need to address them as a team.”
What would help Everton is a return to action for right-back Seamus Coleman, not only due to the Irishman’s own ability but because it would also allow Martinez the option of switching John Stones into the center of the defense. Like Sturridge, Coleman, as well as midfielder Steven Pienaar, will be given as much time as possible to prove their fitness for the trip to Anfield.
Prediction: Sturridge returning from injury may not be the only déjà vu moment from the reverse meeting between the sides last season. Given the defensive fragility of both teams, it is certainly not inconceivable that the 3-3 scoreline of that contest will be repeated. Both Rodgers and Martinez have proven themselves adept tacticians and superb and getting their teams to play attractively going forward, yet now need to show that they can balance it out with defensive solidity. For Liverpool, though, much of the problems appear to stem from the lack of authority emanating from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. The physical attributes of Romelu Lukaku could certainly cause some uncertainty in Liverpool’s back line. Everton will also fancy their chances of exposing their opponents’ forward-thinking full-backs, with the directness of Kevin Mirallas potentially a particular threat.
At the other end, Liverpool currently appear a long way off of producing the devastating quick-hit attacking that saw them beat Everton 4-0 at Anfield last season. Still, they should fare better against a team that will look to play proactively rather than merely looking to frustrate. Ultimately another high-scoring draw could be on the cards, although Sturridge’s availability has the potential to tip the balance.
Liverpool 2-2 Everton
Kickoff time: 7.45 a.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra