What Liverpool’s Youngsters Can Offer England in the World Cup
The inclusion of five Liverpool players in England’s World Cup squad is fitting considering Liverpool’s unprecedented resurgence in the Premier League this season. The youthful trio of Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge were just as integral to the Liverpool cause as the experienced duo of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson. However, club form does not always seamlessly transition into international form. That being said, what can we expect from Liverpool’s youngsters this summer in Brazil?
For club, the trio plays in a system that encourages creativity on the ball and simultaneously promotes tactical discipline. Though Brendan Rodgers tinkered with the Liverpool formation as needed through the course of the season, the setup that proved most fruitful for the Merseysiders was the 4-4-2 diamond. The formation saw Sturridge play up front alongside the mercurial Luis Suarez and Sterling sit just behind the pair as the most advanced of a midfield four. Henderson was typically found on either the left or right of the midfield diamond, tucking in to allow his full-backs space to get forward.
The formation allowed Liverpool’s youngsters to flourish. Sturridge’s partnership with Suarez yielded 52 goals between the two. Henderson’s relentless running, a trait that the former England Under- 21 captain possessed prior to the 2013-2014 EPL season, became more intelligent and effective. The 23-year old was often the spearhead of the Reds’ midfield pressing game, troubling opposition sides with an abundance of energy.
However, it was Raheem Sterling who experienced the greatest renaissance this season under Rodgers. Sterling’s move inward into essentially a No. 10 role coincided with his best football so far. Having played previously as a traditional winger, Sterling showcased a combination of confident dribbling and incisive passing in a more central role. It can be argued that the 19-year old was the Reds’ best player for the last two months of the season.
Having five Reds in his World Cup squad, Hodgson could bravely attempt to replicate the Liverpool setup. Employment of the 4-4-2 diamond would represent an uncharacteristically adventurous move on the part of the England boss. However, a midfield diamond anchored by skipper Steven Gerrard and lead by a free-roaming Sterling could be the breath of fresh air required for an England side that has long failed to gain the confidence of the majority of English supporters. Jordan Henderson and the dynamic Ross Barkley could be deployed on either side of the diamond, with the former providing the energy needed to harry opposing midfielders, and the latter providing the ingenuity and drive needed to unlock opposing defenses.
Of course, Hodgson’s potential attempt at replicating the Liverpool attack would lack the Reds’ greatest attacking asset. Unfortunately for England, Luis Suarez is not English. The only moment that Suarez and Sturridge will both be on the same pitch in Brazil this summer is when England face Uruguay in Sao Paolo.
Sturridge’s strike partner, and ultimately England’s star man, will be Wayne Rooney. Once himself a youngster from Liverpool (albeit the blue half), Rooney could benefit from Liverpool’s current youth. Having Raheem Sterling playing as a free roaming No. 10 could relieve Rooney of the responsibility of having to constantly drop deep to receive the ball. Likewise, Sturridge’s fine form for club means that Rooney finally has a strike partner capable of stretching opposing back-lines and providing a legitimate goal threat at the international stage.
Hodgson’s 23-man selection for the World Cup seemed to reward the stellar performances of English youngsters throughout the Premier League. It’s important that the England manager retain this approach in Brazil. Two months into the most recent Premier League season, Rodgers claimed that British players were as technically sound as their continental counterparts. Fast forward some seven months later, and the performances of Liverpool’s English trio suggests that the Northern Irishman was on to something. With a tough group stage and recent failures in international tournaments lowering fans’ expectations, this World Cup could prove the ideal platform for the England boss to put faith in the likes of Sterling, Henderson, and Sturridge.