With Daniel Sturridge at least another month away from a return to match fitness, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is under intense pressure to strike the right balance in attack, with a host of tricky fixtures lying in wait between now and the England forward’s return.
Trips to Newcastle and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, where the Reds banked just two points combined last term and an Anfield clash with top-flight leaders Chelsea, plus Champions League away fixtures against Real Madrid and Ludogorets, are all on the menu before December starts.
Rodgers’ old club Swansea are up next at home in the Capital One Cup, a competition the Northern Irishman has never shown much love for in the past, with his side 8/13 to prevail in front of the faithful for the first time in three Anfield fixtures.
This rates an ideal opportunity to pair Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert up front together, after largely leaving the Italian to lead the line on his own since Sturridge hobbled back from international duty almost two months ago.
In six Premier League matches without the former Chelsea and Manchester City hotshot, Liverpool have taken just eight points, losing perceived winnable games at home against Aston Villa and away to West Ham.
The Reds’ only normal-time victory in their four other fixtures since the Sturridge-inspired 3-0 win at Spurs was when hosting Bulgarian outfit Ludogorets in the Champions League, and that win only came by a whisker courtesy of a last-minute penalty.
Despite his side’s woeful form, Rodgers has resisted a return to the 4-3-3/Diamond that served Liverpool so well last term, when Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Sturridge wrought havoc on the top flight, to the tune of 61 goals between them.
Obviously it won’t be the same without Suarez, and Sturridge for the foreseeable future, but bringing in Lambert could simultaneously take the pressure off Sterling to create, while also giving Balotelli a new lease of life in front of goal.
The bad boy of Italian football has already spoken out about wanting to play with a partner, and he could hardly wish for a better one than Liverpool local boy Lambert, who scored 13 Premier League goals and, crucially, laid on a further ten assists last term at Southampton.
However, Rodgers has never been past this stage of the Capital One Cup in three seasons as a top-flight boss, so 2012/13 winners Swansea look a tidy price at 4/1 to prevail on the road, whichever XI Rodgers puts out.