While Liverpool are preparing for their League Cup semi-final and next league game against Man Utd, many of our supporters are debating which of our strikers will be used in each game.

Divock Origi or Roberto Firmino have been the manager’s usual preference as the main striker. As Sadio Mané is away and Phillipe Coutinho is lacking match fitness, it is possible that these two will be needed in the wide positions of a front three, but then Daniel Sturridge took a knock at Sunderland and only played 30 minutes against Plymouth, while Danny Ings is out injured.

It is often said now that teams need three or four top strikers in the squad to challenge for the top honours, and while Liverpool have Sturridge, Origi, Ings and Firmino in the squad, there is still some uncertainty about who should be first choice.

The last time we faced Southampton in a League Cup semi-final, in 1987, it was so much simpler as Liverpool’s main striker basically picked himself. This was when we were fortunate enough to have a model of consistency, who was absolutely deadly in front of goal and was the best in the land.

The Best Ever

Scoring goals is the hardest job in football, apparently. For fourteen seasons, from 1981-1996, (with a year in Italy in between) Ian Rush was the main man at Liverpool, smashing records and scoring against all that were put in front of him. His career really was amazing.

He was signed by Bob Paisley, then again by Kenny Dalglish, he won the European Golden Boot under Joe Fagan and was given the captaincy under Graeme Souness and Roy Evans. Not bad…

He pulled the red shirt on 660 times (averaging 47 games a season), and scored 346 times (averaging 24 goals a season) and nobody else has come even close to scoring so many for Liverpool.

He left Liverpool with six league title medals, three FA Cup medals, five league cup medals and a European Cup medal. That is more than the current squad put together…

Not only did he win medals, but Ian Rush scored when it mattered. He was a big game player, like in the 1982 League Cup Final against Spurs, the 1986 FA Cup final (twice) and 1989 FA Cup final (twice) against Everton, and 1992 FA Cup final against Sunderland, plus a goal in the penalty shoot-out to win the 1984 European Cup in Rome. He even scored in the 1987 League Cup final, where we lost to Arsenal, and it was the first time we had lost when he had scored.

His record in semi-finals was just as impressive. Against Dynamo Bucharest in 1984, his two goals took us to Rome for the European Cup Final. Against Southampton in 1986, his two goals took us to Wembley for the FA Cup Final. (How we could do with some of that this week…)

At age 34, he scored six goals in the League Cup run as captain, as he led a young team to the final in 1995 and lifted the trophy. There is a lot of fuss and headlines about Zlatan’s record at Man United this season, scoring so regularly despite his age. Well, Ian Rush scored 19 goals in 1994-95 season, aged 34, partnering a young Robbie Fowler.

There were so many games when he stole the headlines. There were four goals against Coventry City, an unbelievable hat-trick at Aston Villa in the yellow kit (google it), plus a five-goal demolition of Luton Town at Anfield in a 6-0 win. Then there was Everton… four goals at Goodison Park in a 5-0 win and four goals in two FA Cup finals against them. He matched Dixie Dean’s record of 19 derby goals before he left for Italy, then returning to increase his total to 25, including an equaliser in the last derby in front of the old Kop. He even scored one more for Newcastle at Goodison Park, aged 36, they must have hated him!

Manchester United was his main bogey team, as he didn’t score against them until 1992. Yet when he did, it stopped them from winning the league, then he followed it up with two more in the next two games against them. It was worth the wait…

Competition for Places

His partnership with Kenny Dalglish remains probably the greatest that this club has ever seen. If you want to know why, take a look at the old DVDs or YouTube clips that show how often they linked up. Kenny’s touch and vision was top class, but his passes needed pace, awareness and a good finish to turn them into goals, and Rush had it all.

At a big club like Liverpool, there will always be competition for places, and during his time at Liverpool, strikers like David Hodgson, Michael Robinson, Paul Walsh, John Aldridge, Peter Beardsley, Ronnie Rosenthal, David Speedie, Dean Saunders and Nigel Clough all arrived, often for big money. It was only Stan Collymore who managed to take his place regularly when Rush was 35 years old, and even then Rush started the season up front alongside him, with young Robbie Fowler on the bench.

Apart from John Aldridge, who was signed with a view to replace Rush when he moved to Italy, the others were basically left challenging for a position next to him as number 7, season after season, manager after manager, as he was simply un-droppable.

First Line of Defence

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp obviously puts a lot of emphasis on defending and pressing from the front, as everybody is expected to put the effort in to win the ball back when we lose it. Even though Daniel Sturridge is the most natural finisher at Liverpool, Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi are probably the preferred forwards, for this reason, more than anything.

It is fair to say that Ian Rush would have had no problem keeping his place under Jürgen Klopp, just like managers Paisley, Fagan, Dalglish, Souness and Evans. It was not just goals that he was famous for. He was Liverpool’s first line of defence, using his electric pace and anticipation to chase down defenders, full-backs and goalkeepers when in possession. He is Liverpool’s greatest ever goalscorer but was also a defender, a captain, a leader and a winner.

We didn’t always need four strikers. All we needed was Rush.

Written by Simon Ward

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