There have been several players in Liverpool’s recent past who have enjoyed the best football of their careers at Anfield and inscribed themselves into the club’s history with memorable performances.
Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Fernando Torres — to name but three — either spent all of their careers or, in Gerrard’s case as good as, with the Reds or — with Torres as an example — enjoyed their career-best runs of form in a Liverpool shirt.
There have been more players, though, who — despite having all the credentials to claim a bit of Liverpool history for themselves — didn’t spend long enough at the club, through a combination of factors — injury, moving to pastures new to develop, signing at the wrong age or time or falling out with the club — to fully blossom on Merseyside.
We will form a “what could have been Liverpool XI”, comprised of players whose stints with the current European Champions whet the appetite of what they could have done but, ultimately, were cut too short.
For the sake of balancing all of the players into a formation that would suit their abilities best, a 442 shape will be used.
STRIKER: DANIEL STURRIDGE
It may seem odd to lament a player who played 116 times for a club not appearing more, but Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career is definitely looked at through the scope of regret.
The English striker joined the Reds from Chelsea in January 2013 and — along with fellow winter signing, Philippe Coutinho — helped revitalize Brendan Rodgers’ hitherto toothless attack with his intelligent movement and calm finishing.
The next season, 2013/2014, proved to be even more fruitful for Sturridge, as he scored 22 league goals and laid on 9 assists and formed a formidable partnership with Luis Suarez — named in the press as the “SAS” — as the Reds narrowly finished second in the league to Manchester City.
Without Suarez — who had departed Anfield to join Barcelona — Sturridge started the 2014/15 season brightly, notching the winner on the opening day against Southampton. But that would be the last football the England international would play in the year of 2014, as injuries became the incessant feature of his career.
Missing almost five months of football — which began when then England manager Roy Hodgson had the forward play through a thigh injury at national team training to “test his resolve” — Sturridge returned to action in late January 2015 and immediately marked the occasion with a goal against West Ham.
The former Manchester City youth player scored the only goal but also picked up a hip injury in the Reds’ 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United, a result that — coupled with the team’s main source of goals being hurt — condemned Liverpool to finish outside the top four. Surgery beckoned for Sturridge and his season was over.
By the time Birmingham born striker returned to the fold, Rodgers was in his final throes in the Anfield hot-seat and would soon be replaced at the helm by Jurgen Klopp. Typically, Sturridge would be injured when the German arrived at the club and he would find himself down the striking pecking order, initially behind Christian Benteke and latterly the converted forward, Roberto Firmino.
The physical robustness and ability to press the opposition that Klopp demands from his forwards were attributes that Sturridge lacked and, despite providing some big moments — including a wonderfully hit opening goal in the 2016 Europa League final — under the former Borussia Dortmund coach, the Reds’ number 15 was never an ideal fit for the physical gegenpressing style he uses.
As the understudy to Firmino as Liverpool’s number 9, Sturridge — thanks to injuries and the form of the Brazilian — only featured sporadically for the next 18 months before, in January 2018, he relocated to the midlands to join West Bromwich Albion on loan. Cruelly, his stint at the Hawthorns was short-lived and he was injured three minutes into his debut against his former club, Chelsea.
Sturridge’s future on Merseyside was the source of much speculation, but the Englishman remained for the 2018-2019 season and played a massive role in the Reds’ winning their sixth European Cup and racking up 97 league points.
Returning to Stamford Bridge, the 29-year-old earned the visitors a point with a beautifully hit left-footed strike from outside the box that beat Kepa all ends up. September proved to be a bountiful month for Sturridge in front of goal as he also netted the opening goal in Liverpool’s 3-2 home Champions League win over P.S.G.
Sadly, Sturridge only scratched the surface of his talent at Anfield and his elegant finishing, delicate first touch and cultured left foot could have added much more than the 50 goals he plundered while in Liverpool red.
STRIKER: NICOLAS ANELKA
Not only did Liverpool live to regret not signing Nicolas Anelka in the summer of 2002, they compounded the error by signing the hapless — and frankly d*ckheadish — El Hadji Diouf instead.
Arriving in England to sign with Arsenal from P.S.G. in 1997, Anelka — with his pace, sharp movement, and accurate finishing — was an instant hit in North London.
The young Frenchman was an important member of the Gunners’ 1997/1998 double-winning side and brought that form into the next season; scoring 17 Premier League goals and being voted the PFA Young Player of the Year for 1998/1999.
Anelka’s form drew the attention of Real Madrid and the rapid forward joined the Los Blancos for £22.3M in the summer of 1999. Despite starting the final and winning a Champions League medal in 2000, the French international didn’t have the best of times at the Bernabeu — once being suspended for refusing to train under coach Vicente Del Bosque — and his nomadic career path continued when he joined his first club, PSG, the next summer for £22M.
More arguments with coaches would ensue and Anelka would only spend one season in the French capital before joining Liverpool on loan in December 2001. Playing under his compatriot, Houllier, the Frenchman scored 4 goals in 20 appearances for the Reds and, by all accounts, was keen to make Anfield his permanent footballing home.
But citing a lack of trust of his brothers and agents, Houllier pulled the plug on the deal and Anelka joined Manchester City instead on a £13M deal, and Liverpool would be made to regret not signing the Parisian.
Anelka spent his prime years at Fenerbahce, Bolton and Chelsea — where he won the League’s golden boots in 2008/2009 and was a league champion in 2009/2010 — and scored extensively at all clubs.
The Frenchman’s exploits came mostly in an era where Liverpool struggled for a consistent goal-scorer — or, when they had one such as Michael Owen or Fernando Torres, lacked the attacking depth to supplement — and had Anelka been signed permanently in the summer of 2002, the trajectory of Liverpool in the mid to late 2000’s could have taken a different, more positive direction.