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STRIKER CRISIS

Jonjo Shelvey’s one game as a false 9 was an absolute Premier League classic

Before the days of Liverpool's famed attacking-trident, the Reds forward options felt a little improvised at times

It hasn’t always been sunshine, roses and Champions League finals for Liverpool.

During the 2012-13 season, things were quite different. Having axed Kenny Daglish in the summer after a disappointing campaign, the Reds looked to Brendan Rodgers as the man to steer their sinking ship.

But Rodgers first season in charge would amount to an almighty challenge, not least because he inherited a squad worryingly short of attacking talent.


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Next big thing

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Next big thing

Rodgers began his reign by shipping off reliable but ageing regulars Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy, leaving the Reds with very few forwards outside of Luis Suarez and new signing Fabio Borini, especially when then-record signing Andy Carroll was sent on-loan to West Ham.

And by the time the winter period came around, his team was down to the bare bones and ahead of a league match with West Ham, he was faced with the dilemma of having no strikers available – with Borini on the sidelines with an ankle injury and Suarez suspended.

Frustratingly, the January transfer window was on the horizon and there was money available to spend, but Liverpool still had five matches before the turn of the year.

The team would need to improvise. 

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Without Suarez, Rodgers considered turning to untried youngsters such as Daniel Pacheco, Samed Yesil, Adam Morgan and Jerome Sinclair.

But instead, he went for 20-year-old Jonjo Shelvey.

The youngster had been used sparingly by that point, but had netted four goals in Europe and began to display the kind of play-making awareness that has endeared him to Newcastle fans these days.

Starting him in the popular false-nine position was a gamble worth exploring.

“I’m excited about it,” Shelvey said, when asked about his new role in the side

“I supported West Ham as a boy so to play against them in any position is good for me, but it is not easy to fill the boots of a player like Luis Suarez. I will just give it my best shot.”

Johnson up against his former employers

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Johnson up against his former employers

Up against Sam Allardyce’s bullish side, Shelvey lead the line through old-fashioned blood and sweat, while it was the marauding full-back Johnson who dazzled in the early stages.

Pushing high up the field, the right-back scored the opener in breath-taking fashion by firing his shot high into the top corner from the edge of the area.

But Mark Noble was able to equalise for the Hammers from the spot, while Gerrard headed into his own net to give the home side the lead at half-time.

The next 45 minutes were Shelvey’s to grasp. Isolated and frustrated in his striker-role, he was finally able to show his worth with 15 minutes to go, setting up Cole for the equaliser before finishing off Jordan Henderson’s cross with a lunge at the near post.

Two goals in three second-half minutes, with all three of Liverpool’s goalscorers being former West Ham youngsters.

Jonjo on point

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Jonjo on point

But despite his impressive turnout, this was the one of few times Shelvey was asked to play as a forward.

In January, Rodgers added Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho to their ranks, strengthening the attack he’d built around Suarez. A year later, they would finish two-points adrift of champions Man City, with Suarez finishing as the league’s top scorer, while the Reds tallied 101 league goals – the highest number scored by a Premier League runner-up.

These days of course, Shelvey is largely considered one of the finest deep-lying playmakers in the top-flight.

Despite being overlooked by Gareth Southgate for England’s World Cup squad over the summer, the 26-year-old is undoubtedly Newcastle’s star man.

What’s more, his days as a make-shift forward seem long behind him.


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