Jonathan Davies analyses how Sadio Mane’s imminent departure will affect Daniel Sturridge and examines if the Englishman can break into the starting XI.
With Mane departing at the start of January to play for his home nation Senegal in the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool will be lacking his directness and willingness to run at defenders for a good few games. This leaves an empty spot in the starting line-up. Who will fill it? Coutinho will be back from injury in January but will not be rushed straight back into the action, this leaves one man to fill Mane’s boots. Daniel Sturridge.
We all know the quality and skill that Daniel Sturridge possesses. With his quick thinking and silky skills he can pass defenders with such ease it almost seems unreal. A prime example of this was his wonderful brace last season at Southampton in the League Cup, where his trickery and his ability to drift off of the last defender’s shoulders unnoticed, left Caulker stunned. These are the type of things we were used to seeing week in week out in the 2013/14 title challenging season, a season that saw him score over 20 goals.
With Sturridge not registering a Premier League goal so far this season, he needs to step up and this is the time to do it. In the 2013/14 season when Daniel was in his most prolific form, Brendan often played with two up front, Suarez being his partner. The myth that suggests all of Sturridge’s goals and successes from that season came from Suarez is a laughable suggestion. Of course, the quality of Suarez helped Sturridge score and assist, however, we saw Sturridge go on an incredible scoring run at the beginning of that season including the winning goal against Manchester United, which began without Suarez due to his ban after biting Ivanovic. Daniel was the main man of the team. This, of course, allowed his confidence to flow being seen as one of our best players.
Is this what is affecting him now? A confidence issue? Sturridge is no longer considered by many fans as a part of the ‘best’ starting eleven Liverpool could field. This must have damaged his confidence after only a few seasons ago he was included in the Premier League’s team of the season.
This fall from grace is mainly due to the nightmare he has had to endure with injuries. The season after the 2013/14 season we saw Sturridge being tormented with various injury problems, including one which kept him out from November until mid-February. The injury woes continued for him because only a few weeks later after his return he required specialist surgery in America. After missing pre-season and the start of the 2015/16 season, we saw Sturridge getting injured once more in a stop and start season.
Although Sturridge has been kept pretty much injury free so far this season, only missing around four games so far, which is a big improvement, he is still yet to nail down a place in the starting eleven. However, with all these injuries you would expect Sturridge to struggle for goals, but due to his quality and incredible attacking positional sense it allows him to, even after having weeks out, come off the bench and regularly get on the score sheet or help create.
With Mane going off to the AFCON, this could lead to Klopp changing formation to the diamond. With no out and out winger being present this may lead to Klopp going back to two up top. This then allows Sturridge and Origi to play upfront with Firmino slightly deeper, in the number 10 role, then we could see the reintroduction of Coutinho in the deep lying playmaker role, something we have seen various times this season.
Although this team may lack in defensive areas, it would certainly be equipped with barrels of goals. This formation is perfect for Sturridge, as we have seen in the past. First with Suarez and occasionally paired with Origi last season. When Klopp played Sturridge and Origi in this formation we saw the pair score six goals in two games between them.
We saw what kind of impact Sturridge can have when he came off the bench on Monday night. No other player at the club would have had the left foot to reverse that strike and in this case, the ‘greed’ to even take the shot on. So many times with Liverpool, we see them wanting to pass the ball into the net, when in reality if you don’t take the shot on, you don’t score. Sturridge was the only one in the team that night who had a decent shot from outside the box and he came on in the 80th minute. This is what Sturridge brings to the Liverpool team, that extra ounce of quality that is sometimes needed to unlock stubborn defences.
This is a golden opportunity for Sturridge to return to the starting eleven and start scoring again. No doubt he has the talent and the ability to do this, let’s just hope Klopp gives him a chance in Mane’s absence.