Joseph Kavaloski explains eloquently how Daniel Sturridge’s influence over Liverpool is diminishing and what the consequences are of his dwindling impact.
After the sale of Luis Suarez, the second ‘S’ in the SAS partnership became the focal point of everything Brendan Rodgers was trying to accomplish at Anfield. Unfortunately, Sturridge played a significant part in Rodgers’ fall as he was unable to stay fit for more than a couple games at a time for over a year and a half. Under Klopp, the two situations are switched. Sturridge looks to have made huge strides towards overcoming his injury problems, but the system is no longer designed around his strengths. Instead, the game largely plays through the feet of the Reds’ dynamic trio of Firmino, Coutinho, and Mané.
Sturridge’s quality is not to be denied, but the injuries he has sustained over his career appear to be making a noticeable impact on his quickness and agility. He still has world-class technique and the ability to score 20 goals per season when healthy, but the speed to easily glide by defenders is no longer there.
The former Chelsea striker now has to rely on his tactical awareness and football intelligence in order to put himself in positions to score. While this is not necessarily a negative for many managers, especially those with Sturridge’s quality, Klopp has made it clear that his ideal striker may not be the Birmingham-born Englishman.
The German likes to have a player at the tip of his formation that can run the channels and stretch the defence with great movement while also ruthlessly pressing opposing defenders. Sturridge is well known for his excellent runs off the ball that Klopp loves, but his speed and pressing are not up to the standards of Divock Origi or Roberto Firmino.
Additionally, Klopp likes the positional versatility his side gains with Firmino playing as a false nine. The former Hoffenheim player, an attacking midfielder by trade, can easily intertwine his positioning and movement with that of Sadio Mané and Philippe Coutinho to overwhelm defences. Origi, on the other hand, is faster than Firmino and adds the extra dynamic of excellent hold up play.
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Both Firmino and Origi are also unrelenting in closing down defenders whereas Sturridge is far less active off the ball. Although Sturridge likes to drop deep and drift wide similar to that of a central attacking-mifielder, he is most effective centrally in the final third whereas Firmino is known to pick up the ball out wide with Coutinho and Mané operating centrally.
It is a testament to Sturridge’s technical ability that he was able to make 25 appearances last season despite only really playing in the second half of the campaign. It is obvious that the number 15 is not the ideal striker for Klopp’s style of play, but the German cannot help but play the Englishman. When he is on his game, there is perhaps no better striker in England outside of maybe Sergio Aguero and now Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Klopp understands this. Just because that may prevent Sturridge from being sold, it will not prevent Klopp from playing Firmino and Origi instead of him throughout the season.
It is obvious that Klopp loves Firmino’s tactical flexibility and Origi’s dynamic speed and strength to hold up the ball. Sturridge brings technical ability and intangibles that neither of those players can match, but Klopp asks for more than just goals from his strikers. The German prioritizes strategic fit over ability and this will continue to impact Sturridge’s playing time.
Over the second half of last season, Klopp chose Origi and Firmino to lead the line in two of the biggest matches of the season against Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal. In addition, the Reds were dynamic in attack yesterday with Firmino playing centrally in Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation. Time and again, Klopp’s teams have proven to be just as effective without Sturridge in the lineup. There is no longer the reliance on Sturridge as Liverpool’s saviour and this is a good thing for the club, but it will bring new challenges that Sturridge has not had to face since coming to Anfield.
Liverpool’s dancing man is going to have to fight for his place week in, week out against Origi and Firmino. The Englishman has not had to really do this since his scintillating 2013-14 season, but now that there is adequate competition among the strikers, Sturridge is no longer a guaranteed starter. Origi and Firmino are better strategic fits for Klopp’s formation and the only way Sturridge fully supplants those two players is by simply scoring goals. This has not been an issue for Sturridge in the past, but there is going to be a lot more pressure than at any other time in his Liverpool career.
Sturridge no longer has the dynamic athletic ability that made him the total package back in 2013-14, so he will have to rely on his intelligence to score goals and link up with the Reds’ attacking midfielders. Another problem for Sturridge is that Klopp is not going to play him if he does not participate in training. Rodgers would play Sturridge just about every time he could even if his star striker was not fit, but Klopp does not do business the same way Rodgers did. The former Manchester City forward will need to train with the team extensively throughout the week in order to be considered for selection and this could be another issue that prevents Sturridge from seeing the pitch as much as he would like.
There are a number of roadblocks that could prevent Sturridge from making a huge impact, but as many have learned throughout his career, doubting Sturridge usually leads to better results out of the Englishman. For fans, it is positive to see the club no longer so reliant on the striker to be the focal point of everything the Reds do in attack, but Sturridge will need to perform at a very high level if he wants to be a consistent member of the starting eleven. There is a lot of competition for his spot and Firmino and Origi fit better than Sturridge in Klopp’s plans.
As he did last season, Sturridge will simply need to overwhelm his manager by showing off his brilliant technical ability that has helped him to become one of Liverpool’s best goal scorers in the club’s illustrious history.