Why Daniel Sturridge will be important for Liverpool this season
There was a devastating attacking trio at Anfield before Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane donned red. Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling tormented Premier League defenders for Liverpool beginning with the 2013/14 campaign, coming mighty close to winning a first League title for the Merseysiders in the Premier League era.
The two young Englishman and the Uruguayan combined for 64 goals that season. Their red-hot form put Europe on high alert. A year later, Sturridge was chronically injured. Sterling was pushing for a move to Manchester City and Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. Liverpool couldn’t say no to the money on offer. The partnership disintegrated.
Sturridge stayed put. Who's going to buy damaged goods? Further knocks prevented him from rekindling the 2014 form that produced a career-high 24 goals. By 2016, Liverpool fans forgot the trademark worm celebration which follows every Sturridge goal.
Sturridge’ troubles followed him to the West Midlands. Seeking his renaissance, the England international accepted a loan to West Bromwich Albion last January. In reality, he took his act on the road. Three minutes into his debut, he pulled a hamstring. He appeared five more times for the Baggies. The club cursed their luck. Albion fans did not celebrate a single goal from a striker acquired on a six-month deal worth £3.8 million.
Despite his persistent fitness woes, Sturridge's skill and instincts remain intact. At 29, there's still time to realise his potential. When healthy, the Birmingham native's scoring venom is more deadly than a king cobra's. Thankfully for Liverpool, he's healthy now. Looking like a new signing, Sturridge is sharp, effective, productive. The former Manchester City and Chelsea sniper has two goals in the campaign's early stages, one in the Premier League opener against West Ham, the other in the Champions League v Paris Saint-Germain.
Liverpool's strength is their attack. Salah, Firmino and Mane ended 2017/18 nine goals shy a century. They’re at it again this season. The trio's stocked nine goals this term. Barring injury, they remain Jurgen Klopp's first choice up front. Sturridge must feed on the scraps. While the player may chafe at the bit, it's a good situation for the club.
Firmino's ability to move back and forth between the midfield and front line, both starting and finishing movements, makes him the right choice to start. Klopp can’t rely on him for the campaign's entirety. That's why he rotated Sturridge into the Champions League's first match, bringing Firmino on late. Both scored.
Title-winning teams are built on squad depth, not just the starting XI's panache. Manchester City didn’t overwhelm the league last season by depending solely on Sergio Aguero. Gabriel Jesus shouldered some responsibility. Of the 47 goals between the pair, the Brazilian contributed 17.
Last campaign, Firmino potted 27 goals in 54 outings. Dominic Solanke deputised, finding joy once in 27 appearances. For those counting, that put the duo 20 goals in arrears of the Aguero-Jesus pairing.
Other top-six clubs boast one-two combinations or wish they did. Chelsea can field Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata. Arsenal can call on Alexandre Lacazette or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Tottenham have long sought a productive second for Harry Kane. Manchester United must identify one for Romelu Lukaku from Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez and possibly Marouane Fellaini.
The longer Sturridge stays fit, the happier his manager will be. Klopp hailed Sturridge as a bully throughout his 70-minute outing against Thomas Tuchel's Rouge-et-Bleu. Sturridge’s effort was rewarded. To the Kop's delight, the worm turned again.
Blessed with a clinical Firmino and a hungry Daniel Sturridge hungry, Liverpool’s title credentials may very well be validated this season.