Caislin Boyle analyses Daniel Sturridge’s performance against PSG after he started his first game in the Champions League for six years.
Daniel Sturridge bears the demeanour of a man content with his lot. And with good reason, given that it allows him to score decisive goals in the Champions League under the infamous Anfield lights.
With his contract due to expire next summer, Sturridge returned to Anfield this summer with an air of determination. It’s unclear whether that was to secure a new deal or to attract prospective suitors, but the club has reaped the benefits. And with Jürgen Klopp a known admirer of frugality, could the emergence of Sturridge be one of the season’s most positive narratives?
When the team news broke on Tuesday, the absence of Roberto Firmino wasn’t met with the same degree of concern. The front free was weaker for not having Bobby’s link-up play, but in Sturridge, an almost equivalent level of goal threat remained.
Sturridge was repeatedly involved during his 70-minute outing, forming a key part of the pressure on the PSG defence. He was physically engaged in the game, embodied by his tussling with Marquinhos on corners. In the 5th minute, he directly and positively contributed to Virgil van Dijk’s missed chance, occupying Kimpembe in a manner that allowed the ball to reach the Dutchman.
Sturridge was an aerial threat, with his goal a combination of an excellent Andy Robertson cross and extremely clever positioning. He adjusted himself perfectly between the two centre-backs, ensuring neither could close him down.
Detractors will point to the headed chance he missed on 61 minutes, supporters will applaud his positioning. Undoubtedly he should have done better, but there is encouragement in the consistent involvement. He almost found himself on the end of crosses from Mané and Salah in the 6th and 32nd minute respectively. Being targeted demonstrates that his teammates have belief in his ability.
Sturridge was also the second highest chance creator in the game (2). This is not a trait automatically associated with his game, the development of which shows purchase into the team ethic.
What is clear is that Sturridge is now predominantly a box striker. Whether injury-induced or tactical, Sturridge’s near-omnipresence in the box differentiates him from Firmino. From the beginning of the 2017/18 season, Sturridge has scored 5 goals in the Premier & Champions League respectively.
All 5 have been from inside the box; notably with two headers (against Arsenal in August 2017 & PSG respectively).
His strike against West Ham on the opening day of this season was also from a cross (corner), albeit bundled in with his left boot. The manner in which he peeled off the centre-backs in that game was reminiscent of how he scored his goal on Tuesday. Whatever the limitations of his body, his goal-scoring instincts are unaffected.
There is an argument to say that Sturridge doesn’t score the goal Firmino does against PSG; that he doesn’t run at players like that anymore. But it doesn’t matter, because when Firmino couldn’t start Sturridge was able to step into the breach.
“This game was notable for a good performance from Daniel Sturridge, who looked sharp, hungry and in total ownership of his unerring ability to finish.” I wrote this about Sturridge in July, referring to his performance against Chester, but it could’ve easily been about his performance on Tuesday night.
I also said that it was incumbent upon Sturridge to prove that he could be an asset. Fast-forward two months and he has done just that, proving that Firmino can be rested without fear. Whether departing or staying, there is every hope that Sturridge will do it with a medal around his neck.