AFTER significant cameos against Everton and Stoke resulting in an assist and a goal, a fit and firing Daniel Sturridge is again a topic of conversation among Liverpool fans.
For a variety of reasons, it’s clear that the Reds’ number 15, signed from Chelsea for £12million in 2013, still divides opinion as he enters the fourth year of his time at Anfield.
Be it style, attitude, work-rate, injury record, even religion — it’s obvious he gets up the nose of some, while to others he walks on water.
Some say — despite evidence to the contrary — that Sturridge is “lazy”. I’d go so far as to say that the only lazy thing about that is the shout itself.
As an atheist, I can understand some people feeling uncomfortable at his religious references. But Sturridge is strong in his beliefs, and I’m quite forthright in my assertion that there is no God, so it would be hypercritical of me to have a go.
I can also see the sense in some people being annoyed about his injury record. It’s frustrating. Yet that’s hardly his fault. Comments from Steven Gerrard in his autobiography fed into the idea that Sturridge doesn’t “force his body through pain” but I’m not sure that’s fair. Different players work in different ways. Luis Suarez might have hopped on to the field with one leg shouting “‘Tis but a scratch” but Sturridge clearly needs to feel free in his movement to be at his best.
Others claim he’s too selfish. There have definitely been times when he could have passed to a player better situated than him. But then he’s scored absolute screamers that other footballers could only dream of scoring. That’s why his goal record is 58 goals in 105 appearances — better than the one in two benchmark often set for quality strikers. Goal-getters are selfish by their very nature. When you see a player take on four defenders, dribble past them all and slot the ball into the corner you don’t say: “Terrible goal, that, should have passed it.”
Over the last two games Sturridge has shown exactly why he’s a player worth sticking with. Issues in the past with him being out injured and so on were unfairly exacerbated because he was essentially our only source of goals. So much pressure was put on his shoulders that if he was out for a length of time it seemed 100 times worse. Jürgen Klopp’s decision to take the weight off his shoulders has proven to be a masterstroke in that regard.
Divock Origi is still a young lad and could go on to be a world beater. At times over the last couple of months his work rate hasn’t been at the standard most would like to see, but that will come with time. The fact that he’s been scoring goals even when not offering heaps to the team’s overall play speaks volumes. He looked much more of a team player against Stoke, too; holding the ball up well and finding some lovely passes to feed Sadio Mané in.
It’s never right to compare players when they offer different things and have different levels of experience, so a pinch of salt is required. Yet Origi has proven to be something of a blunt instrument so far this season. That is never more noticeable than when he is replaced by the surgeon’s scalpel that is Sturridge.
Against Everton at Goodison Park, Origi ran the defenders ragged and asked questions of their physicality but never really looked as though he was going to threaten their goal. Sturridge was on for just a few minutes when he found himself some space and nearly scored, instead hitting the post and creating the crucial goal.
Origi was in the game more against Stoke and was also involved in a couple of the goals, but it was crying out for Sturridge to be introduced from about the 60-minute mark to give their defenders something else to think about. Origi probably would have scored had he been on the end of Ryan Shawcross’s hideous backpass, but that honour fell to Sturridge instead. He was cool, calm and collected in front of goal when many players would have flapped at being presented that sort of chance so early after having come on.
None of this is to downplay Origi’s contribution or to suggest that he isn’t good enough. He’s got every chance of being a brilliant player in the future and he’s in the right place, with the right manager and displaying the right attitude.
Instead it is to point out just how important Sturridge could be in the next few months. The loss of Mané will be a tough one to take in January, but we’ve got a player coming back into fitness and form who can pose just as many questions of opposition defences.
For the first time in a long time we’re not putting all of our goalscoring eggs in one basket and hoping for the best. Sturridge used to be our only hope, now he’s the icing on a title-challenging cake.
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