Liverpool started the current campaign quietly confident of retaining their hard-won place in the top four, despite the sale of uber-important forward Luis Suarez after the World Cup, and for a very short while it seemed as if their optimism was well placed.
Wins over Southampton and Spurs and a loss at champions Manchester City wasn’t a bad return from a trio of tricky opening fixtures, especially considering Brendan Rodgers’ men’s dominance over Mauricio Pochettino’s Lilywhites in a 3-0 thumping at Anfield that should have been more.
Alas, Daniel Sturridge failed to return from international duty fit, and the Suarez-funded garment procured by Rodgers over the summer was seen to be wholly inadequate.
Liverpool failed to win 11 of their next 16 games, and that’s being charitable as one of their five victories during that run was via a protracted penalty shootout against Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup.
The Northern Irish gaffer’s famously patchy transfer record once again failed to pass muster; for every Daniel Sturridge, there’s a Mario Balotelli and a Rickie Lambert. For every Philippe Coutinho, a Joe Allen and a Fabio Borini.
Now, just when it seemed Rodgers had a handle on his club’s campaign, following a run of ten wins in Liverpool’s past 13 Premier League fixtures, England forward Raheem Sterling’s contract situation threatens to plunge the Merseysiders into a similar crisis next term.
The Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton went as far as claiming Sterling won’t accept a new Anfield contract even if the terms are set at £180,000 per week, which is around twice as much money as Liverpool are reportedly offering captain-elect Jordan Henderson to stick around.
This indicates the depth of ill feeling between Rodgers and Sterling, who, according to Ashton, believes he is being wasted in the right wing-back role he has been asked to perform against Manchester United, Blackburn and Burnley since the start of 2015.
It’s difficult to argue with this logic, as Sterling’s best performances in recent weeks have clearly come in his side’s 2-1 win at home to Man City, the second half of Liverpool’s rather fortunate 1-0 victory away to Swansea, when he was pushed further forward after the break, and in England’s 4-0 Euro 2016 qualifying win over Lithuania.
With the Reds reportedly expecting Sturridge to shake off his latest injury ahead of their next top-flight match at Arsenal, and Rodgers seemingly determined to play £25m man Adam Lallana in the same XI as Sterling and Coutinho, the 20-year-old’s alleged thinking regarding his future isn’t likely to be altered ahead of the summer.
Today’s Independent believes Sterling is poised to leave Anfield this summer, with City, Arsenal, FC Bayern Munchen and Real Madrid reportedly ready to pay Liverpool £50m-plus for his services.
With Rodgers’ transfer record as it is, and Sturridge’s hamstrings not to be relied upon, that would be scant consolation.