FOR many Reds, the best news to emerge from the European Championships so far Daniel Sturridge coming back injury-free. That he boarded the plane with nothing more serious than slightly damaged pride and a fair dose of regret should be a blessing for all of us who can’t wait to see him up front for Liverpool next season.
But is that where Liverpool fans want to see him? I’ve seen and heard a surprising amount of Reds suggesting deploying Sturridge a little deeper next season. In fact, it’s even been referenced on our own podcasts.
I’d like to think that watching these European Championships has dispelled any ideas Jürgen Klopp may have had of playing Daniel Sturridge as one of three attacking midfielders behind a striker.
It’s not that Sturridge played badly. He was one of England’s brighter attacking talents, at least until the second half of the Iceland game when everyone’s heads fell off. Daniel Sturridge can probably play anywhere. It just seems such a waste of his talents to not have him as close to the opposition goal as possible.
Sturridge in this deeper lying, play-making/quasi-10 role – I like it a lot. #lfc
— Dave Phillips (@lovefutebol) June 27, 2016
It’s often said that putting the ball in the back of the net is the hardest part of football. As Euro 2016 has shown, there aren’t many lads about now who are much good at it– certainly not on a regular basis. Therefore, when you have a fella who is brilliant at it, why would you move him further away?
Sturridge had bright moments in both games he started from a wide right position for England, but no real attempts on goal. England didn’t win either game and went out. Would it have been different had Sturridge been played as a nine? We can’t say for sure. But I’m certain England would have managed more than one goal against the might of Slovakia and Iceland if Sturridge had been played up front.
Sturridge had moments of magic but they were just too far away from goal to be of true value to the team. It reminded me a little of Luis Suarez under Dalglish and how Brendan Rodgers never really got enough credit for transforming him from a someone who was seen as a support striker into an out-and-out number nine. Rodgers recognised that beating a man 40 yards from goal was one thing, but beating a man in the box meant a shot on goal. The players who can create space for themselves there are worth their weight in gold.
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Sturridge was often able to skip away from his marker, but he was still faced by five or six men between him and the goal. I saw him given the job of feeding a forward line short of confidence and got a worrying flash forward to him being given the task of supplying Divock Origi or Danny Ings next season. Both of these players have tons of promise, but don’t yet have the guarantees of a fully-fit Sturridge in front of goal. They still have question marks at the highest level going into next year. You don’t yet move a player of Sturridge’s ability to accommodate them.
Some of the desire to see Sturridge play deeper seems to stem from a growing consensus that Sturridge can’t play up front on his own in Klopp’s preferred formation of 4-2-3-1. I’m not sure where this has come from. His first real purple patch for Liverpool came after Luis Suarez was suspended for biting and Sturridge was given the task of leading the line on his own. Sturridge with Philippe Coutinho behind him formed a great partnership. He scored twice as we battered Newcastle at St James’s Park, and then got a hat-trick at Fulham. This form continued into the next season, with Sturridge scoring in each of Liverpool’s first three games playing as the number nine.
Daniel likes to wander, like a lot of strikers do. He will run the channels and he’ll look to get involved in general play. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a number nine or that he can’t be coached, or rather instructed, to maintain a position more rigidly if necessary.
Footballers, with the possible exception of Mario Balotelli, aren’t static. Formations aren’t rigid. Players move about. As long as they are mostly where you want them to be, then that’s fine. And we want Daniel Sturridge mostly in the penalty area. With as few a people between him and the goal as possible.
There are also the issues of the demands on his body.
Klopp obviously wants all his team pressing, but certain positions get more of a rest than others.
In terms of distance covered and sprints the players at the top of the leaderboard are usually the attacking midfielders — James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana; the guys who are pressing and harrying and winning it back to spring attacks. Do we really want Sturridge doing this? Can his body even take it? Or is he the one they slide in to score?
Lads who run, pass and create are easier to find. Good ones are expensive, of course, but they are gettable. Goalscorers are rare. We can find someone else who can do what Sturridge can do in midfield and out wide. Can we find someone else who can do what he can do in front of goal this summer? All the best.