With Suarez gone, Liverpool are looking toothless

With Suarez gone, Liverpool are looking toothless
Luis Suarez

When iconic forward Robbie Fowler opens Asia's first Liverpool FC retail store in Kuala Lumpur today, he should be prepared for some questions about his beloved club's inconsistent start to the season.

And much of the attention will be on the striker situation, with three defeats in their opening five league games leaving last season's English Premier League runners-up in 11th position ahead of this weekend's Merseyside derby against Everton.

Tuesday night's unconvincing 14-13 victory on penalties over second-tier Middlesbrough in the League Cup at Anfield did little to ease concerns about the Reds' lack of finishing when it counts.

Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert have huffed and puffed, the injured Daniel Sturridge has been on the treatment table and last season's Golden Boot winner Luis Suarez is now a Barcelona player.

The once free-scoring Reds have managed just a single league goal in successive league defeats to unfancied Aston Villa and West Ham United. And they needed a Steven Gerrard penalty in injury time to squeak by Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets last week in their first Champions League game in almost five years.

While their shaky start has been compounded by some elementary defensive mistakes, Liverpool's profligacy in front of goal has perhaps been the most telling difference compared to last season.

It is difficult not to connect Liverpool's dip in fortunes to Natal on June 24 - the moment Suarez's teeth sank into the shoulder of Giorgio Chiellini.

When the Uruguayan talisman bit a fellow professional for the third time on a football pitch - and, more notably, when he received a four-month suspension for his actions - it was when the alignment of the planets dramatically changed for a club who went so close to ending a 24-year title drought last season. Liverpool fought hard to keep their star out of the clutches of Arsenal the previous summer but Barcelona's offer proved too good to turn down, given his latest transgression.

Replacing a player of Suarez's class was never going to be easy, and Anfield optimists will argue that Liverpool will bounce back once Sturridge makes a sooner than expected return from a thigh injury, possibly against Everton tomorrow. After all, when the England international last appeared, he brilliantly combined with Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson as the Reds thumped Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 at White Hart Lane on Aug 31.

But the naysayers will argue that Brendan Rodgers' team no longer have enough consistent scorers to mount a title push.

Balotelli, Borini and Lambert combined are still far less effective than Suarez, who was last season's runaway PFA Player of the Year.

Fowler, like the Uruguayan, was a special striker; the kind his former club could use now. The strength of the Liverpool brand remains strong in South-east Asia, perhaps second only to Manchester United, with a loyal and mature following. But with the rise of Chelsea and Manchester City, a Suarez-less Liverpool may have a battle on their hands to engage a new generation of EPL fans.

This article was first published on Sep 26, 2014.
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