Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers admits the team are back in a period of transition but believes the imminent return of striker Daniel Sturridge will provide a huge boost.
Injuries have significantly restricted Rodgers’ options this season, particularly up front where the absence of Sturridge — who signed a new contract yesterday, and could feature against West Brom — with a thigh injury for a month, has left £16million summer signing Mario Balotelli isolated in more ways than one.
The Italy striker has scored just one goal, against Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets, since arriving and has struggled to reproduce the form he showed for Manchester City when he first came to the Premier League.
When Sturridge returns, Rodgers will have the opportunity to play his preferred diamond formation with two up front but until then he has mainly stuck to 4-2-3-1.
“I think once I get the injured players back it will give me more flexibility,” said the Reds boss.
“I think the idea at this moment is to keep it as simple as we can for the players so the team can be as cohesive as we possibly can be.
“Once I get other players back who can adapt to play in a number of positions then it makes it a bit more flexible for me.”
Despite an impressive return last term Sturridge firmly believes his best form is still ahead of him and Liverpool’s brilliant form in finishing second in the league has spurred him on to secure more success.
“There are a lot of things I’m happy with, but there is a lot to come,” he added. “I’ve not shown yet what I can do — what I’m doing is just the start for me.”
The departure of striker Luis Suarez, integrating a raft of summer signings and injuries to a number of players have all contributed to a difficult start.
Liverpool have yet to reach anything close to the blistering form they displayed in the second half of last season, having won just twice in the league and scored only eight times in six matches.
Of greater concern is their defensive weakness, with just one clean sheet in nine outings this season and only two in their last 18 games, which incorporates their scintillating displays which took them to a runners-up place in May.
Rodgers denied, however, he was facing the biggest challenge of his managerial career after expectations were raised following last season’s second place.
“No, not really. It’s an exciting challenge. This is an incredible job and nothing has changed,” he said.
“There was big change here in the summer and we lost a world-class player [when Suarez was sold to Barcelona]. We had to improve the squad and bring in a number of players and unfortunately we’ve lost a number of our key players to injuries.
“It brings us into a little period of transition again.
“You have to go through some pain along the way. We are in a difficult moment but that’s the great challenge for myself and the players.”
West Brom head coach Alan Irvine is chasing a fourth straight win in all competitions after their 4-0 victory over Burnley on Sunday.
Albion are without strikers Brown Ideye (ankle) and Victor Anichebe (groin) and winger Silvestre Varela (hernia) but Irvine said the Baggies believe in themselves.
“It will be extremely difficult to go there and win — but we can and we will go there feeling that we can. We went to Tottenham believing we could win. We really did, we didn’t go negatively.
“We went to White Hart Lane with two strikers. If we had gone there believing we couldn’t win we would have gone with five midfield players but we went with two strikers. I think that was borne out by the way the lads performed.
“We will go to Anfield knowing it’s a really difficult place to go. But can we win there? Absolutely, of course we can.”
The Baggies will continue to monitor on-loan Varela, who has made just one Capital One Cup appearance since joining for the season from Porto in the summer.
He may need surgery but the club are liaising with Porto.
“We certainly can’t do anything that is too invasive in terms of assessing him without their permission,” said Irvine. “We may be at the stage where we are not quite sure whether he needs a small operation or not.”
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