Gary Lim: Rodgers must start Sturridge against Spurs
LIVERPOOL v TOTTENHAM
(Tomorrow, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
Daniel Sturridge pleaded to be unshackled.
The Liverpool striker pencilled in the Merseyside Derby for his return to the starting 11, following a long spell in the treatment room.
But Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers would not oblige. It was a risk he wasn't prepared to take.
The prospect of a recurrence of the injuries that put Sturridge on the sidelines for 32 straight matches in all club competitions, just as Liverpool are galvanising themselves for a late charge at Champions League qualification, was deemed too big a gamble.
Rodgers would rather plonk a very green Jordon Ibe on the right flank than make room for a fired-up Sturridge.
So, the striker's wait continues.
But the time has come.
When Tottenham Hotspur visit Anfield tomorrow morning (Singapore time), Rodgers must unleash his most potent weapon.
The final push for a top-four spot can no longer wait.
With only slightly more than one-third of the season to go, the Reds remain the outsiders and are in danger of losing even more ground.
In seventh place and five points away from Manchester United in fourth spot, Liverpool are certainly in a better place than when they started the season.
Their upturn in fortunes began in mid-December after a 3-0 away loss to United and, since then, they have gone eight games unbeaten in the league.
But, as their recent League Cup semi-final elimination by Chelsea had shown, a lack of cutting edge in the penalty box continues to hamper them.
Deploying Raheem Sterling as the spearhead in a false No. 9 system covers up the team's deficiencies adequately, but the lack of a natural predator up front still shows.
The urgent need to unleash Sturridge in the starting 11 against Spurs stems not only from the Reds' wasteful finishing, but also because they have been somewhat of a flat-track bully.
Apart from an early-season 3-0 victory over a Spurs side still finding their feet, Rodgers has otherwise failed to engineer a win over the Premiership's traditional top teams.
There were defeats by the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea.
At home to Arsenal, they could only draw 2-2 and, that too, by the skin of their teeth.
Sturridge brings to his team the qualities to move them up another gear the way Liverpool's rivals have consistently managed in tight contests.
The Reds need Sturridge's precision, pace and panache against Mauricio Pochettino's fifth-placed outfit tomorrow morning.
They need his assured touches and predatory instincts in the opponents' penalty area.
But, as The New Paper's football analyst Ray Houghton has pointed out: "Has this fixture come one game too early for Sturridge?"
Since returning to action at the end of last month, after missing five months of competitive football, he has made three substitute appearances totalling 86 minutes.
In his first game back from injury, he netted in the 2-0 win over West Ham.
The combination of a brilliant first touch and sharp finishing should hearten Liverpool. The prolonged absence hasn't dulled the edge of his game.
Rodgers' patience and resolve in the handling of Sturridge have been admirable and understandable.
But enough of caution.
He has no more cards left to play, except for the England striker, his final ace.
- Sunderland v QPR
- Arsenal v Leicester
- Hull v Aston Villa
- Stoke v Man City
- Man United v Burnley
- Chelsea v Everton
- Southampton v West Ham
- Crystal Palace v Newcastle
- West Brom v Swansea
Allen excited by Ibe's potential
FEARLESS: Jordon Ibe (in red) hit the post in the Merseyside Derby draw with Everton on Sunday.
Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen believes the emergence of exciting teenaged winger Jordon Ibe is evidence the club's continued investment in young talent will pay off.
The 19-year-old made only the second Premier League start of his career and put in a Man-of-the-Match performance in the 224th Merseyside Derby, which finished in a goalless draw at Goodison Park on Sunday morning (Singapore time).
Excluding Steven Gerrard, the Reds' other attack-minded players were Raheem Sterling (20), Philippe Coutinho (22), Alberto Moreno (22) and Jordan Henderson (24) - and even Daniel Sturridge, coming off the bench, is still only 25.
Youthful exuberance, and the pace which accompanies it, has been a factor in the team's recent rejuvenation and Ibe's surprise inclusion only adds to that.
Playing on the right side of midfield rather than his accustomed winger role the youngster, bought from Wycombe Wanderers three years ago after 11 first-team appearances, produced Liverpool's best chance with a run and shot against the post with goalkeeper Joel Robles beaten.
His inclusion justified manager Brendan Rodgers' decision to recall him from a loan spell at Derby last month and Allen believes Ibe will complement the growing band of influential young players.
"He is an incredible talent. I saw him as a 16/17-year-old a couple of years ago and I thought, 'this guy has everything to go really far'," he said.
"He came in and proved that and with that performance he will be staking a claim for the starting 11.
"His raw attributes - his pace and power - and his ability to beat people for pace with the ball are frightening at times.
"That, coupled with the hard work he puts in, combined with the experience he has had on loan and getting games, has helped him come back stronger.
"He always seems confident when he goes out to play. He is a great player to have in our squad."
Liverpool host Tottenham tomorrow morning (Singapore time), a match they really need to win if they want to start making a move towards securing Champions League qualification for next season.
"We will give everything to get in that top four," said the Wales midfielder.
"We have ground to make up and we have work to do, but it starts in our next game against Spurs.
"They have picked up some points recently and had a great win against Arsenal, so we will need to make sure we give everything and be on top of our game.
"I think at the start of the season, they are a team you expect to be there or thereabouts and it makes for an exciting game." - PA Sport.