Can Daniel Sturridge finally put to bed his injury stigma and be the man to unlock overcrowded defences on a sustained basis for Liverpool?
The old saying goes; “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, though I prefer the idea that not only can Sturridge be taught new tricks but can adapt to a new style, a change in status and has the ability to implement it to perfection – all with that famous celebration to top it off.
Who’d of thought it – many of us fans (me included) viewed his performances against West Ham and Middlesbrough as his final swan song. I was under the illusion that he’d be sold off and replaced by a more reliable (injury-wise) striker.
I sang his name along with thousands of other Reds, after the Middlesbrough triumph, during the lap of honour – and it felt like a goodbye. He took a long gaze at the Kop, as his name echoed around Anfield, like he was taking it all in, one last time. It had an emotional feel to it – and truthfully he, like me probably believed it would be the last time he’d play for Liverpool.
However the widely shared belief that the twenty-seven year old would revitalise his career elsewhere wasn’t to be. Reports blamed the inflated transfer market and the fact that it’d prove extremely costly to replace a player of Sturridge’s calibre – hence Jürgen Klopp’s reasoning behind blocking any chance of a move away.
He’d only started a mere seven games all season and whether he liked it or not – he’s staying put.
You’d be forgiven for expecting a low morale from him, a bit-part role, another season of sitting on the bench and even that’s pending on injury. Not at all. I think he looks as keen as mustard in pre-season. Not just mentally either, he looks like he’s bulked up over the summer.
Starting to look a bit of a unit is Sturridge – and it’s not gone unnoticed by the boss either. Jürgen has openly admired Sturridge, proclaiming it’s the fittest he’s ever seen the sharp-shooter during his time in charge. This actually excites me – part of me still truly believes that his peak years are there to be had, if injuries can be held at bay that is.
Whether he’s up for a fight to force his way back into main-man status or just the opportunity of extra games in Europe that’s giving him an edge – or perhaps it’s simply that he finally feels healthy again.
Crazy thought – maybe Klopp held him back so adamantly last term to finally and gradually let him build up fitness, resistance, desire. Maybe it was all a master plan. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we’ll see the best Sturridge there’s been since 2013/14. Maybe he’ll surpass that level. Definitely maybe wouldn’t write him off doing so.
There’s no denying just how important a role Sturridge played in sealing Liverpool’s top-four finish – that finish to calm the nerves against, what could’ve been an awkward away visit to West Ham. The movement was there, the intelligent runs, step-overs, trickery, he excelled in the pressure.
I remember that precious moment, a nervy game, all our hopes and dreams hanging on this result and out of nothing, Philippe Coutinho slots a magical ball through. One on one. Who else in the entire team. Sturridge. He doesn’t miss these. Confident as you like. Around the keeper and poked home. Liverpool ahead. Still got it. Never doubted him for a second. Did you? What a moment.
Can you imagine him fit as a fiddle. (Okay I’ll admit, I do this every pre-season). Nevertheless I’m at it again. Tell me any other player that scores twenty plus goals when firing on all cylinders in our team. I can’t – and I’m as optimistic as they come.
I believe there’s goals from all angles in our attack and we could easily see Coutinho, Firmino, Mané and Salah reach fifteen plus goals each.
Still as ludicrous as it sounds Sturridge could easily rival any of those as top-scorer and even more mind-blowing is that could be off the bench as an impact player.
Still they’ll be many occasions where he’ll start in my opinion – his ability to mesmerise defenders and his formidable record in-front of goal (sixty goals in one hundred and nineteen appearances for Liverpool) demands a starting spot in certain games.
Maybe he doesn’t suit Klopp’s desired tactics every game but at the same time suits any game – whether it’s Stoke away, nil-nil with thirty minutes left or Manchester United and we’re creating but need that goal-poaching quality to kill them off. Every time – it’s Sturridge.
He’s struggled on the goal-ratio numbers due to lack of quality players around him and his dreadful injury record since joining Liverpool – he’s missed a massive eighty-six games through injury alone. It hits home how horrendous that is when you consider he’s made eighty-nine appearances.
That’s nearly half the games while he’s been here – he’s missed. Then of course there’s the post Suarez era – Lambert, Borini, Balotelli, Benteke, Aspas etc. It wasn’t a glorious time in terms of attack and along with hardly playing, hindered his goal-tally. With Suarez – thirty-four goals in all competitions in two seasons (forty-nine appearances).
Without Suarez – twenty-five goals in three seasons (seventy appearances). What does all this mean? Simple – surround Sturridge with class and he’ll raise the bar to levels we never knew he was even capable of.
Surround Sturridge with the likes of Coutinho, Mané, Firmino, Salah, Lallana, Wijnaldum, Emre, Henderson – that’s the class I’m talking about.
There’s only so long you can live off the reputation of one stand-out season (2013/14) before you need to remind the world what your capable of – no more living in the past, no more sugar-coating. This could potentially be a career defining season for Sturridge.
Many will read this and scoff at the idea he can be our main goal threat once more, which is fine, but I’d like to leave those sceptical readers with a thought to ponder on. God forbid Roberto Firmino gets a knock or suspension (please keep your top on Bobby) – up steps Sturridge with speedsters Mané to the right, Salah to the left and Coutinho behind him fizzing penetrating balls through the middle. How can that not excite you. Exactly impossible. That has fear factor.
Where Sturridge lacks in pressing, pace and work ethic – he makes up for with clinical shooting, opportunistic positioning and a quick-witted, instinctive mindset inside the penalty-area – which you simply cannot teach.
Perhaps Sturridge’s end of season cameos wasn’t a leaving gift, but the complete opposite – a teaser of what’s to come?
Sometimes the answer is right under your nose – whether intentional, forced or accidental, maybe, just maybe we haven’t seen Sturridge peak quite yet. Twenty-seven years of age, finally looking physically astute for the Premier League, under the watchful eye of one of the world’s elite managers and surrounded by attack-minded, fluent, creative, fast-paced players. If he can’t now – he never will.
An opportunity Sturridge must grasp with both hands.
Up the Reds.