STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Saturday, April 8, 2017: Liverpool's substitute Daniel Sturridge warms-up during the FA Premier League match against Stoke City at the Bet365 Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

SUBMERGED in the Brazilian brilliance and the heroics of our Belgian ‘keeper at Stoke, was the return of Daniel Sturridge — a man who if back pages and Twitter timelines are to believed, is on his way out of Anfield, writes GREG STANLEY.

He looked hungry when he came on. His movement off the ball was refreshing for a tired Liverpool side, helping Philippe Coutinho find space in which to play in. Shortly after crossing the white lines and entering the game, it was Sturridge’s ambitious through ball that found Roberto Firmino in acres of space, starting the move which eventually lead to an equaliser that hadn’t seemed imminent until his introduction.

The 45 goals that Sturridge has scored for the club bring with them a reputation — his face is still one of the most recognisable in English football and, for all his problems with injury, he’s just as likely to bend one into the top corner as he is to limp out of a game. It feels like an eternity ago, but just last year this was a man who scored perhaps one of Liverpool’s greatest goals in a European final, though it would eventually lead to nothing after a second half collapse from the Reds.

Even after that flash of brilliance Sturridge was being linked to clubs such as PSG and West Ham, though no move ever came to fruition for one reason or another.

There appear to be many reasons behind the general consensus that Sturridge’s days at Liverpool are numbered — his proneness to injury being the main one. His infamous struggles have cast a shadow over his career at the club to date and continue to be at the forefront of many people’s consideration where the player is concerned. It’s no surprise therefore that Sturridge, signed in the same month as Coutinho back in 2013, has played just 114 games for the club in all competitions compared to the 175 times his Brazilian team-mate has taken to the field.

Yet when he has been on the pitch, he has proved to be a somewhat reliable source of goals. Twenty-one of his 45 league strikes came in that 2013-14 season as a pacey, intricately skilled and intelligent forward. That scoring record was only bettered by strike partner Luis Suarez — not just at the club but in the entirety of the Premier League. A late winner against Southampton on the opening day of the following season suggested more of the same was to come from Sturridge as he carried the burden of goal scoring that Suarez’s departure left.

However, as is so often the case with the Premier League’s international stars, England came calling and with that came injury followed by months of setbacks. Nothing was seen of our striker bar the odd Instagram post and he would take part in just 18 of Liverpool’s 58 games that season.

Without his goals, and with little help from the likes of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, Rodgers’ side really struggled. An almost complete juxtaposition of the season that came before it, the Reds scored just 52 goals compared with 101 in 2013-14 and ended up hobbling over the line licking their wounds after a horrific final day defeat at Stoke.

Keeping in theme, he’d alternate between scoring goals and being injured until the end of Rodgers’ tenure and well into Jürgen Klopp’s, a manager who remarked about the striker needing to learn the difference between “what is serious pain and what is only pain”. These comments raised some questions about the striker’s mentality and his role at the club, though it soon became clear that the German and his staff valued Sturridge’s importance by micro-managing his game time to increase his robustness. That decision bore fruit towards the back end of last season with the striker notching eight goals from March through till the campaign’s conclusion.

Prior to this season there were hopes that Sturridge would rediscover his best form, having seemingly managed to successfully navigate a full pre-season programme, however those hopes were eventually put to bed when the striker suffered a hip injury just prior to the friendly clash with Barcelona at Wembley. While it seemed the end of the world at the time, the striker would return in time for Liverpool’s first away trip to Turf Moor and would stay clear of the treatment table until mid-November. It did genuinely seem that Sturridge had put the worst of his problems behind him, that was until illness saw him sent home from a warm weather training camp in La Manga and he then suffered a hip injury as he recovered from that illness.

His most recent comeback seemed timely given Liverpool’s attempts to arrest their New Year slump and aim for a top four finish. At home to Bournemouth, with the number 15 sat on the bench, Klopp looked towards a change of formation to help Liverpool control the game, although it seemed there were a lot of tired legs left to stem the tide of Bournemouth’s long balls and throws that eventually led to an equaliser. The ever-teasing looking glass of hindsight suggests that maybe reintroducing Sturridge into the side would have been a better idea. In his post-match conference, though, Klopp claimed that it was ‘too early’ for him to enter the game with half an hour remaining, the point at which Joel Matip replaced Coutinho.

With that collapse in the rear-view mirror, all three of Klopp’s next substitutions made a much more telling impact. The Brazilians, Coutinho and Firmino entered the fray at Stoke City with Liverpool one goal down and staring towards another bleak day at the grubby hands of Jonathan Walters. They changed the game, anyone between the Bet365 Stadium, Twitter timelines and Match of the Day Two could see that. Sturridge’s impact, though not directly leading to a goal as with the others, spoke volumes about what he can still bring to the team.

As he edges towards full fitness (for now, at least), and Liverpool edge towards securing a spot in the top four, now is when we will find out if Sturridge has a future at Liverpool Football Club. Top scorer Sadio Mane heads the list of injuries, having been ruled out for eight weeks after surgery on his knee, and clever footballers will be needed to pick up as many points as possible in the run-in.

With West Brom away this weekend, The Hawthorns might be the setting of a resurgence in the career of what is undoubtedly a very, very talented footballer. Whether he is playing in order to attract potential suitors this summer, or to fight for his place at a club where he’s now spent as much of his time playing as anywhere else, the business end of this season is a chance for Sturridge to deliver the goods — and it’s a chance he might just go on and take.


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