Jason Harris discusses how Liverpool’s final game of the season is a final chance for Daniel Sturridge to save his career on Merseyside.
Daniel Sturridge is a player who evokes more discussion than any Liverpool player in the current squad. There is seemingly no middle ground when it comes to the England striker.
Some people think he has run his race at the club due to his consistent absences with injuries and lacklustre performances when he has been fit. While others see glimpses of the natural talent that he still possesses and feel that he can still play a big part in Liverpool’s future.
The debate over the 27-year-old’s future sprung to life again this week after a starring role in the Reds 4-0 win over West Ham which pushed the club one step closer to the all-important Champions League qualification.
Fellow writer at Rousing the Kop Jack Hallows put forward a very good argument regarding letting Sturridge move on to new pastures in the summer.
It is a very interesting debate but this writer has a slightly different opinion about the enigmatic striker.
Rather than go into his goal-per-game ratio and overall history with the club which has been discussed at length, I will look at an underrated area of his game and how it helped transform the side in the last game. Also why there should be some caution attached in regards to selling the striker.
For all the speed and skill a footballer may possess, a key facet is the ability to make his teammates better players. For all his injury struggles, Sturridge has the ability to do just that when he is fit and firing.
It was a big reason that Liverpool produced their most complete attacking performance in 2017 against the Hammers. It was a throwback to the thrilling football we saw in the first half of the season.
It is also not a big surprise that Philippe Coutinho produced one of his masterclass performances by being able to pull the strings in a more central position and knowing he had the support of a fully focussed Sturridge to call on.
The presence of Sturridge would also have released a fair bit of pressure on Divock Origi. The youngster has had to lead the line in recent times and quite often has taken a large share of criticism for the inconsistent performances of the team.
While West Ham was not at their best on the day, that had a lot to do with the way that Liverpool played and Sturridge was at the heart of it. The first goal of any game is always important and even more so when so much is riding on the outcome for one of the teams.
When Sturridge calmly rounded Adrian in the West Ham goal and slotted the ball home, a level of calm instantly came over the team. While they had a few scares late in the first half, the team managed to keep their composure and turn the second 45 minutes into a Sunday stroll.
In all honesty, Sturridge should have come off the pitch with a double to his name had Origi not tried to look for personal glory late in the second half. However, the big positive was that Sturridge was still making strong runs into the box late into the game and was not satisfied with just the one goal he wanted more, clearly the hunger was back.
The other thing that impressed about the striker’s performance was that he took it upon himself to perform. There had been questions raised over who were the true leaders in this squad.
It was a match which Liverpool simply had to win. Dropping points like they had done in previous weeks was not an option if they wanted to achieve their goal. With first team regulars like Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané and captain Jordan Henderson out of the side, it needed every individual to play a role.
Those who didn’t perform would have a big black cross put next to their name. For someone like Sturridge who had a couple of them already, it may have been the death knell of his career with the club. However, he stood up like a senior player should and should get full credit for doing so.
While there is a risk in keeping a player like Sturridge at the club with his extensive injury record, there is also a distinct risk in selling him. There would be a list of clubs lining up for him and it would not surprise if Tottenham or Arsenal were among them. However, there would be limited interest in Europe for his services mostly because English players like their home comforts too much.
There was a reason why Alex Ferguson never sold his top line talent to any of his main rivals as he didn’t want to be burned by them at the vital point of a title chase or in a cup final.
The likes of David Beckham, Rudd Van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam were sold to clubs on the continent, and far away from any awkward domestic meetings. When a player was seemingly orchestrating a move to a major rival (like Wayne Rooney to Man City), he quickly pulled them into line and told them there was no way it was going to occur.
In those times, Manchester United could afford to lose a player or two as their squad was full of quality and it was a club players wanted to join.
Liverpool has lost their mantle of being a “destination club” in recent years, but under Jürgen Klopp, they are well on the way to being one again. However, they have to be very careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Sturridge is a pure finisher and being a natural skill is very hard to teach. When Gerard Houllier sold Robbie Fowler to Leeds and then did not opt to buy the on-loan Nicolas Anelka at the end of the 2001/2 season it was basically the beginning of the end of his tenure as manager.
Try as he might, he could not fill the void as he was left with an injury-plagued Michael Owen, inconsistent Emile Heskey and uncommitted El Hadji Diouf as well as very raw talents in Milan Baros and Florent-Sinama Pongolle.
That lesson from the past still rings true today. A top line striker is much more costly now than at the turn of the century. Liverpool’s budget is always something that is uncertain under the present owners. Personally speaking, the defence is the biggest area of concern and needs to be fixed, closely followed by the makeup of our midfield.
If there was to be a departure from the strike force in the summer, I would prefer Origi ahead of Sturridge as his style of play is easier to identify. Although still young, he has been incredibly inconsistent and there are questions whether he has the sufficent tricks to become a top line player. However, he is a firm favourite of Klopp so this is unlikely to happen.
In football speak, Sturridge is in injury time of his Reds career. He is walking on a tightrope and one move, either way, will decide his future.
Another strong game against Middlesbrough will go a fair way in securing his future at the club. However a poor showing will show that he cannot be trusted to do the job asked of him on a week to week basis. The equation is clear cut and basically all the striker has to is produce the kind of effort he displayed seven days ago.
Sunday looms as a fascinating occasion on more than one level. Daniel Sturridge your moment of truth has certainly arrived.