Football | The Daniel Sturridge dilemma

Daniel Sturridge scored his 100th career goal in Liverpool’s 3-0 victory over Huddersfield on Saturday. David Smith analyses whether the 28 year old deserves to start more regularly for the Reds.

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Daniel Sturridge’s scored his 100th career goal on Saturday with a typically clinical finish to hand Liverpool the lead against Huddersfield at Anfield.

Sturridge has now scored an impressive 62 in 130 games for the Reds, but has never been a regular starter under Jurgen Klopp.

“It’s (about) getting that rhythm, that flow,” he told the club website after the game.

“For myself, I feel like I’m best when I’m like that playing regularly.

“But the manager picks the team and I’ll never cause any issues or problems in the camp because he’s the boss, I have a lot of respect for him and for his decisions.”

The English striker’s career has been hugely hindered by consistent injuries, but should he be a regular starter at Anfield when fit?

Injuries

Daniel Sturridge’s pre-season cameo against Bayern Munich summed up all that is good and all that is frustrating about the striker.

Sturridge beat the offside trap perfectly, raced on to Ben Woodburn’s delightful through ball, and lifted the ball effortlessly over Manuel Neuer with a sublime chip.

Instead of wheeling away to celebrate, the Liverpool forward pulled up with an injury, and was replaced shortly afterwards.

Unfortunately, that has been the story of his career. On his day, the former Manchester City and Chelsea striker is one of the best in the business, but his career has been blighted with injuries.

He is 28, but has just 193 career appearances to his name, despite making his Premier League debut in 2007.

Sturridge has only made 20+ Premier League appearances in a season on three occasions, and the frequency of his injuries make it hard for managers to make him their number one striker.

Klopp has stated that Sturridge is now fitter than ever, and the striker has also reinforced the Liverpool manager’s claim. There is no selection dilemma when Sturridge is sidelined through injury, but the skillful forward should be featuring more for the Reds when available.

Strikers thrive on confidence, and grow sharper the more they play, but Sturridge has rarely had a string of consecutive starts under Klopp.

The system

Brendan Rodgers certainly knew how to get the most out of Sturridge, who he signed for just £12 million from Chelsea in January, 2013.

Sturridge made an instant impact on Merseyside, bagging 10 goals in his first 14 games for the club, and scoring 21 in 29 matches the following season as Rodgers’ Reds narrowly missed out on the title.

However, he scored just 15 league goals in 46 appearances over the next three seasons due to his recurring injury woes.

Despite his undoubted talent, his career has stalled under Jurgen Klopp.

He has started just four games this season, but has scored twice (against Arsenal and Huddersfield) and has generally impressed in his cameos off the bench.

Roberto Firmino is preferred to Sturridge because the industrious 26 year old is a better fit for Jurgen Klopp’s favoured ‘gegenpress’ system.

Firmino has been converted into a ‘false nine’ by Klopp, and his movement and ability to press are key to Liverpool’s style of play. Sturridge has never been renowned for his tireless work rate, and he possesses a contrasting skill set to his Brazilian teammate.

Divock Origi was also ahead of Sturridge for most of last season for the same reason, but few fans would argue that the young Belgian is a more talented forward than Sturridge.

Different systems require different players, and Klopp’s team selection suggest that he doesn’t fully believe that Sturridge is suited to his methods.

Klopp rarely – if ever – deviates from his system, and the charismatic German has previously stated that the system creates more opportunities to score than the best playmaker in the world.

However, goals win games, and Sturridge is capable of scoring them in abundance if given 90 minutes on a regular basis for the Reds.

Prolific

Klopp may believe that his ‘gegenpress’ system scores more goals than any individual, but Sturridge is undoubtedly the Reds’ most clinical finisher.

His record of 62 games in 130 matches for Liverpool means his goals to game ratio is just under one in every two, which makes him the most prolific player in the Reds’ current squad by some distance.

Firmino’s goals to game ratio is worse than one in three – the former Hoffenheim attacker has netted 30 goals in 105 Liverpool appearances. Firmino is an excellent player, and offers a lot to Liverpool in terms of movement, work rate, link up play and chance creation, but the Brazilian is not the most clinical finisher.

In his two seasons at Anfield, he has netted 10 and 11 league goals respectively, despite playing for one of the most attacking sides in England.

He has scored three league goals in ten matches this season, but Sturridge has scored two, despite playing far fewer minutes than Firmino. As mentioned above, Firmino’s game is about far more than scoring goals, but having a striker capable of scoring 20+ goals a season is a necessity in order to challenge for a Premier League title.

Sturridge is also a player capable of scoring goals from nothing. He produced a stunning strike to give Liverpool the lead in the 2016 Europa League final against Sevilla, in a game which the Reds ultimately lost 3-1 due to some calamitous defending.

Klopp also turned to the England international at the tail end of last season as Liverpool limped towards fourth place and a coveted Champions League position.

With Firmino injured and Origi misfiring, Klopp placed his faith in Sturridge in the final weeks of the season, and the 28 year old repaid his manager with several impressive performances and a trademark goal against West Ham in Liverpool’s penultimate league game to calm the nervy Reds.

At 28, Sturridge should be entering (or in) his prime, but he needs game time to rediscover his best form.

Now that he is fit, he won’t be happy to sit out his late twenties on the bench, and the prospect of more regular game time might be enough to lure the silky striker away from Anfield. He has also dropped down the pecking order at international level – despite impressing when selected at Euro 2016 – and he will need time on the pitch to convince Gareth Southgate to take him to Russia next summer.

Conclusion

 

There are those who feel that Sturridge is past his sell by date, or that his injuries have worn him down, but he has shown plenty of promising signs in his appearances this season.

His goals to game ratio is still impressive, and should be a regular starter while Sadio Mané is sidelined.

If he can provide goals and strong performances before Mané returns, he will provide Klopp with a serious selection headache, particularly if Firmino continues to fall short of his best form up front.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to score another 100 before my career is over,” Sturridge said on Saturday.

He has scored a century of goals, but he’s not finished yet.