Daniel Sturridge and the Road to Redemption
For the most part of the summer, in Liverpool’s case, media focus has been on the transfer saga of Philippe Coutinho and the fierce and pacey attacking line up of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
If the focus was not on any of the above-mentioned subjects, then it was on Liverpool’s rumoured transfer targets. Amidst all this, one Liverpool player flew under the radar and has put himself on the Road to Redemption.
The journey from saviour to unwanted
Remember in the 2014/15 season when Liverpool sold Luis Suarez and had to painfully watch the likes of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini play up front? Back then, the Reds were dying to see a certain Daniel Sturridge in action but a series of injuries saw him sidelined for lengthy periods.
Such was the expectation and quality of Sturridge that his continued absence started irking fans and soon many wanted to see the back of him, as they felt he could no longer contribute to Liverpool. This feeling was further cemented after the arrival of Jurgen Klopp, who as the manager preferred the hard-working Roberto Firmino upfront instead of a traditional number 9 like Sturridge.
During Klopp’s first season in charge in 2015/16, Sturridge returned from injury midway through the season and went on to play just 25 (19 starts) out of the 63 games Liverpool played that season. He still finished the season as Liverpool’s top scorer in all competitions with 13 goals - one more than Coutinho who played 43 games and two more than Firmino who played 49 games!
Sturridge even scored a sublime goal in the final of the Europa League that season and people would have talked more about it if Liverpool won the final.
Nevertheless, the England international has been constantly linked with a move away from Liverpool but he has stayed and remains an integral part of Klopp’s plans to make Liverpool great again. How?
What makes Daniel Sturridge special?
Liverpool have had a long list of top strikers play for them in the Premier League. Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres, Robbie Fowler, Ian Rush and Michael Owen are undoubtedly at the top of the list. However, none of these strikers hold the record for the fastest to reach 30 goals for Liverpool - Daniel Sturridge does.
Sturridge hit the ground running on joining Liverpool and enjoyed the best spell of his career during his first season and a half with the Reds as he scored 35 goals in his first 49 games! Talk about making an impression!
This is what makes Daniel Sturridge special - his ability to find the back of the net regularly. Without a hint of doubt, no player in Liverpool’s current squad can match the movement of Sturridge and he showed that minutes after coming on against Arsenal in the recent 4-0 win. Sturridge came on in the 74th minute and in the 77th minute, he ghosted past a clueless Laurent Koscielny to find himself at the end of a Salah cross to score his first of the season.
Sturridge has played 121 games for Liverpool, scoring 61 goals - which averages to a goal every 2 games. His goal involvement ratio (goals plus assists) in these games comes to 0.63 per game. However, out of these 121 games, only 87 were starts, which means Sturridge’s minutes per goal ratio gives a better perspective of his abilities.
In the Premier League alone, Sturridge played 91 games of which only 63 were starts. For Liverpool, he has played 5912 minutes of Premier League action, scored 47 goals and assisted 13 more. This means, he averages a goal every 126th minute and averages a goal or assist every 99th minute.
His overall minutes per goal ratio in Premier League for all clubs is also one of the best in the league.
After three injury-ridden seasons, this is the time for Daniel Sturridge to repay the faith Liverpool, Klopp and the fans have shown in him.
Sturridge seems like a man on a mission this season and during the summer break for the players, he posted a workout video on his Instagram account.
His trainer described the Liverpool man’s thoracolumbar torsion exercise as “ideal for training the lower abdominals to generate explosive lower body rotation (required for movements such as kicking) without the shearing forces through the hips and lower back.”
During this preseason, Sturridge’s dedication prompted Klopp to say
"It's the best condition I've seen from him since I'm here."
Even in preseason, Sturridge showed how big a threat he is with a sublime finish against Bayern Munich in a friendly albeit getting injured in the process. Nevertheless, Sturridge looks sharp and fit ahead of the new campaign.
“I feel as sharp as ever, I’m ready to go. I had a great pre-season, felt really good and I’m looking forward to the future to be honest with you,” Sturridge said recently to Liverpool FC.com
“I feel great, it’s the best I’ve felt for a long time, and I’m looking forward to this season.”
A fit and firing Sturridge could prove to be a pivotal factor in the title race. There is also the matter of the upcoming FIFA World Cup and Sturridge will want to push hard for a berth in the England side that will travel to Russia.
Sturridge is a good option to have off the bench or to rotate with other players due to Liverpool’s participation in the Champions League. However, his importance lies beyond that.
The reason why Klopp prefers to use Firmino as the focal point of attack is his ability to drop deep, draw defenders out of position and create space for the likes of Mane and Salah to run into. This strategy clearly works for Liverpool as Salah and Mane have a knack of scoring goals and have excellent positional sense.
When up against a team that uses a high-line and one that commits men forward, Salah and Mane will have plenty of chances to use their pace to good effect. However, Liverpool’s high pressing game and counter attacking style doesn’t always work well and it was clear in many games last season when teams defend deep.
Against such teams that defend deep in numbers, Liverpool will have to wait patiently to carve out a good chance and when they do, they will need someone to finish these chances off. This is where Sturridge will be effective.
Mane and Salah have already shown that they are capable of creating chances for other players with their excellent dribbling and passing skills. Throw Firmino into that mix and Sturridge will bury almost every chance that comes his way.
All top teams have a good striker on the bench and after years, Liverpool finally have a good second choice striker to rely on and one that could prove to be a huge difference in the title race.
When fit, Daniel Sturridge is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the league and also one of England’s best players. It would be foolish to underestimate him.