Sterling is Liverpool's most creative force this season; he leads the team with three goals, and is second with two assists, just behind midfielder Jordan Henderson. The problem is that Sterling doesn't have a whole lot of help. In a perfect world, Sterling would be combining with Sturridge, but Sturridge is (kind of always) hurt, and hasn't played since August.

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In his place is Balotelli, Suárez's prized replacement, and one of the biggest names to move in the summer transfer window. Balotelli's a great player, and at times, his technique and strength can be devastating. But Balotelli isn't Suarez. Suárez is creative, starting goals almost as often as he finishes them; Balotelli is a poacher. He's not as dynamic as Suárez, requires service, and exists more to finish off his team's moves. And that's fine! That's fine.

But Balotelli has only scored once in all competitions this year, and against Real Madrid last week, this happened:

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That's indefensible, and useless performances like this one have often caused Balotelli to be subbed out for Liverpool's second summer striker signing, Rickie Lambert, who has been equally terrible, if at least more active.

Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana were all brought in to strengthen attacking midfield options, but they've disappointed, and they don't offer anything more than or different from Sterling or Brazilian starlet Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool's attacking depth and interchangeability is telling, because the Reds almost always seem to perform better later in matches. This is probably just because they have a lot of good players, and fresh good players are better than tired good players.

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But even then, the Reds often look like they're thinking about being dangerous, passing and combining in front of their opponents' defense, but they can't penetrate. They don't have any match-winners.

It's speaks to a larger problem: that Liverpool are still built around a player they no longer have. Rodgers's sole plan last year—as it should have been—was to get the ball to Suárez, either flaring out to a sideline, or dropping back into the midfield, where he could pick up the ball, take on players, and score himself, or spring Sturridge behind the defense. Liverpool largely overwhelmed their opponents with their fast, open play, but they no longer have the players to do so. Sturridge is injured. Balotelli and Lambert are ineffectual. Most of Liverpool's midfielders are all solid, serviceable players, but there isn't a single match-winner among them. And so the Reds languish.

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As it stands now, Liverpool are a deeply flawed team devoid of any stars who can consistently win them points right now, today. Sturridge, however, remains their best hope. He's tallied 32 goals in just 46 matches for Liverpool, and the one time he partnered with Mario Balotelli this season, Liverpool ripped Tottenham to shreds. Sturridge is tall, strong, blazingly fast, and a terrific finisher. He's very good, and he may be great.

However, the Reds' most critical spot remains the absence of Suárez. It's still difficult to quantify exactly how great Suárez was last year. He pulled defenses all over the field, and made Sturridge's and everyone else's job's that much easier. Sturridge can paper over some of those same cracks, but Liverpool's real failing was in thinking a one-man fix could be sustained. Those cracks are still there; Liverpool appear unable to stop or score on anybody, and more tragically, too stubborn to move on.

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