DANIEL STURRIDGE loves a triple. He scored in his first three games for Liverpool, he scored in the first three league games of the 2013-14 season, and he’s scored in his first three games of 2014, after his first lengthy injury lay-off at his new club. Daniel Sturridge loves scoring. He does it a lot. But everyone’s stopped noticing.
In 33 appearances for Liverpool, Sturridge has scored 25 goals and made six assists. No Englishman has scored more in the past calendar year, and yet even our most jingoistic of national press has largely overlooked his stunning goal return. In the same timeframe, his strike partner Luis Suarez has scored 34 times in 33.
With Suarez enduring his longest drought of the season having gone over 180 minutes without a goal, Sturridge’s return has lifted the goalscoring burden off the Uruguayan. Suarez has done as much as manager Brendan Rodgers in transforming the English striker’s game over the past 12 months.
With Suarez’s form since September demanding all the plaudits, Sturridge has been allowed to grow in his shadow – it has undoubtedly benefited him. If he was leading the line at any other club, away from Suarez, he would be held up as the country’s saviour ahead of this summer’s World Cup. Yet there’s no guarantee that Sturridge would have performed this well at another club, the overwhelming feeling is that Rodgers’ Liverpool and its brand of fiery attacking football is the perfect setting for him.
Given the overriding question marks that surrounded him upon his arrival at Anfield, it’s a remarkable turn of fate. Many of his dissenters, and I was among them, questioned his attitude and his decision making. There have been brief glimmers of them in the past 12 months; he was dropped from the team for this season’s Merseyside Derby for not training hard enough, and he still retains a certain over-zealousness in front of goal, yet it has diminished over time.
These are secondary complaints, but reminders of the overwhelming perception of Daniel Sturridge the footballer before he moved to Merseyside. Perceptions, of course, are not always accurate.
The evidence was there before his arrival that he would prove to be a shrewd acquisition, and a fine example of Liverpool actually extracting the best possible value from a transfer target, most of us just chose to ignore it.
Managers that have placed faith in Sturridge, who have regularly played him in his favoured central attacking position, have unlocked his best. Owen Coyle at Bolton, who for all his shortcomings mastered the art of mentoring young attacking talents on loan at the Reebok, coaxed eight goals out of him in 12 games. Before that spell in the second half of the 2010-11 season, he’d scored just 15 goals in four-and-a-half seasons for Manchester City and Chelsea.
Upon his return to Stamford Bridge, Andre Villas-Boas placed immediate faith in him. Sturridge had scored nine league goals by Christmas, but his opportunities dried up in the second half of the season; the arrival of Roberto di Matteo led to his ostracization and inevitable departure from the Blues in January 2013.
Throughout the last 12 months Sturridge has rarely looked “in form”, which is largely explained by the fact he hasn’t experienced a lengthy goal drought, like Michael Owen or Wayne Rooney have in the past, before firing 10 goals in five games. His longest spell without a goal or assist for Liverpool was in the spring of last year; four games. It led to him being benched for the visit of Chelsea to Anfield, where he promptly transformed an abject first 45 with a goal and assist.
Sturridge’s immediate adaption to the Liverpool first team was impressive in the second half of 2012-13, fears that he would not connect with Suarez proved unfounded, while his pace on the counter attack facilitated Philippe Coutinho’s best spell in a red shirt.
In 2013-14 his game has gone up another level, yet without looking like it’s reached peak capacity.
Early on this season Sturridge visibly tired in games, a consequence of missing virtually all of pre-season, yet he responded with six goals in his first five games. Despite appearing beset by niggles and fitness issues, Sturridge kept up his excellent scoring record until injury curtailed his 2013.
Brendan Rodgers has not received enough credit for the impact his methods have had in improving both Sturridge and Luis Suarez over the past year – both collectively and individually – and if Liverpool are to break their Champions League exile that is where the momentum will come from.
A sustained run in the side is likely from now, with Rodgers’ thirst for a Sturridge-Suarez partnership unquenchable; who knows what he will capable of when he does reach near full-fitness for the first time this season. In terms of Premier League strike partnerships, only Manchester City’s axis of Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero has come close to rivaling its potency this season.
He just gets on with it, and scores goals. It’s the biggest compliment, and a testament to the impact he’s made, that his effortless return to goalscoring ways on his comeback from injury has been met by a universal shrug of the shoulders.
And what? That’s what he does.