This Premier League season has been great for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the race for the title is as close as ever, and secondly the number of sides with a realistic chance of securing a top four finish is the greatest in recent memory. In addition, another reason as to why it has been such an enjoyable season is because of the strike partnerships we have seen develop and flourish at both Manchester City and Liverpool.
In terms of goals scored, Manchester City and Liverpool are miles ahead of the rest of the league with 68 and 66 respectively (Arsenal and Chelsea are joint third on 48). This is obviously primarily because both teams often play with two strikers and the other two don’t have a world class striker. It is a style of play that many, including myself, thought was no longer appropriate because of the way modern football relies on dominating the middle of the field, but I am glad to see that this is not the case.
Starting with Manchester City, the relationship between Agüero and Negredo has been exceptional to watch. They are both superb at finishing and assisting, which means they can freely interchange roles, making them a nightmare for defenders to play against. One can stay up top and occupy the centre-backs whilst the other drops deep into space to receive the ball and turn. So far, only Chelsea have managed to stop them from scoring at home, and this fact is testament to the style of play that Manchester City have deployed this season. Manchester City have been in unbelievable form at home, and credit has to go to Pellegrini for adopting a system that has allowed them to score 100 goals in a record low number of games.
Moving onto Liverpool, Suárez and Sturridge have also formed a sensational partnership, with the duo holding both first and second position in the Premier League goals tally. Dubbed SAS, they have haunted defences all season, including Arsenal’s normally brilliant defence in the 5-1 drubbing at Anfield. In this partnership, Suárez is the one who is the complete footballer. There is nothing he can’t do, as he is world class at dribbling, passing and finishing, as his 23 goals and 8 assists so far in the Premier League show. Sturridge is less of an all-round footballer, and instead concentrates on getting into good positions in the box, and using his ice-cool finishing to great effect.
There is some debate as to whether a team playing two upfront can be successful at the very highest level of the game. We have seen this season that both Manchester City and Liverpool have destroyed the weaker teams, but can the system work against Europe’s elite? After all City were dominated by Bayern Munich at home and also beaten by Chelsea. However, in response to this I would point out Manchester City’s results v Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham at home, as well as Liverpool’s results v Tottenham away and v Arsenal at home. These results have shown that the formation can work against the best, but in order to so the midfield needs to be very strong. This is why City struggled against Chelsea at home, because Demichelis was not good enough and so City’s midfield could be overrun. When Fernandinho plays alongside Yaya Touré, City are a much stronger outfit and are much harder to beat. It is a system that requires the right personnel all across the pitch, but there is no reason why it can’t work nowadays.
As previously mentioned, Yaya Toure is the key player to making the formation work. His sheer physical size and strength means he can dominate the middle of the pitch on his own, which enables Pellegrini to play two strikers. That’s not to undermine the role of Fernandinho though, who himself has slotted in brilliantly on his debut season in England. For Liverpool, the key midfielder to making their system work is Jordan Henderson. Whilst Gerrard has had a fantastic season, it is Henderson’s stamina, running and work-rate which means Liverpool can play with two frontmen. By looking at City and Liverpool, it can be sent that in order to play two strikers upfront, it is necessary to have at least one all action midfielder who can play numerous roles all on his own. It is this that stops them from getting overrun in midfield.
Over the years there have been some truly exceptional strike partnerships, such as Rush and Dalgish, Yorke and Cole, Henry and Bergkamp, and Shearer and Sutton just to name a few. Perhaps it is the football romantic in me, but there is nothing better than a thriving partnership between two frontmen. The way modern football operates means these partnerships are becoming rarer, but if the midfield behind the strikers are good enough, it is a system that can not only work, but enable success. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is ask Liverpool and Manchester City supporters, who have seen some of the most exciting football played in England in years. After all, football is an entertainment business and what is more entertaining and exiting than seeing two strikers at the top of their game scoring goals and terrorising defences?