Daniel Sturridge is quite possibly the biggest what if in recent Liverpool football club history. Last week the still only 28-year-old scored his 100th (and 101st) goal in club football. 71 of those goals have come in his 131 matches for the Reds over the last six years. This sentence tells you all about the striker’s career – a lot of goals scored in very few games. Sturridge arrived at Anfield together with Philippe Coutinho in the winter of 2013, the Brazilian magician has worn the red shirt 60 times more than Daniel since. But that is no new information, we all know what the problem with the English striker is.
Ever since the 13/14 season Daniel Sturridge has failed to stay consistently healthy. During the last campaign, he managed to play in 20 Premier League games – the most since he and Suarez were wreaking havoc across England. Still, those 20 appearances amounted to just 769 minutes. The striker was clearly struggling to regain form, scoring just 3 times on an abysmal 8% conversion rate. All the numbers suggested that he was done. Perhaps the way most of the football world saw Sturridge coming into this season is best described by his FIFA 18 pace rating – 76, which is on par with Delle Alli and lower than Coutinho. Slow, not converting, not available and on the decline. Who needs a player like that, especially on 150 thousand quid a week? After the missed chance against Newcastle a few weeks ago supporters and pundits even questioned his finishing ability.
Beyond the obvious
The 28-year-old striker is the only real number 9 in the squad with sufficient Premier League experience. Roberto Firmino is very good at creating chances for his teammates and will score 10 to 15 goals a season. The Brazilians natural tendency, however, is to pass rather than shoot – he created 76 chances last season and took 80 shots. Sturridge played four times fewer minutes and took 40 shots. On top of that so much of what Daniel does simply can’t be measured by numbers. His positioning and timing of runs can’t really be matched by any of our centre-forwards. He creates goals by just being in the box and forcing defenders to make decisions.
In this situation the striker was not credited with anything – he didn’t even touch the ball. However, his presence is what caused a defensive error and lead to the goal. The run is timed to perfection and puts Whelan in an undesirable position – facing his goal and stretching for a clearance.
Sturridge’s tendency to dribble and shoot also creates problems for defenders. Once the striker has the ball and is facing the goal he has one thing on his mind – score.
Of course, the striker can sometimes be seen as selfish. But in a team where the attack is supposed to be position-less and fluid having someone who shoots on site is actually mixing things up and making it harder for defences.
One of the aspects of continues injuries, that is sometimes getting overlooked, is the fact that athletes lose trust in their body and limit themselves in terms of load. Sturridge has struggled with his health for 3 full seasons so it’s understandable if he has this problem. Last season he did not complete a Premier League game – this season he played the full minutes in the match. Building back the confidence in his legs will take time and even more so given the physical demand of Jurgen Klopp’s system. Daniel has improved this season and even physically he looks better. He draws more than double the fouls per 90 minutes compared to last season – hinting that he is starting to regain confidence in his own body.
The attacking trio of Mane, Firmino and Salah is clearly preferred by the German when all of them are available. When one of them is missing Phil Coutinho moves to the wing. In the current situation, the chances for Sturridge to start will be limited (hopefully no more serious injuries and suspensions). He will start as part of the manager’s rotations, specially with the condensed winter schedule but as of now, he is set up to be our super sub. When the Reds are chasing a game, subbing on the player who shoots the most per minute is a logical step. The English striker has already scored 2 goals in all competitions coming off the bench this season.
Every Liverpool win is better with the Sturridge dance, and by the looks of it, we might see it more often this season.