AFTER all the talk of the Reds being set up as a perfect away team over the last few weeks we all expected more of the same against West Ham, if we are honest with ourselves.
A strong away performance that would focus on keeping a clean sheet, with three defensive-minded or at least players with a defensive mindset shielding our much-improved defence and ‘keeper in the hope that one of our better players would do something great to win us the match. In the days leading up to the game I was pretty much convinced that this was the best we could hope for given the absentee list and the impact it has had on our ability to create chances.
The thing is, before kick-off I hadn’t even thought that Dan Sturridge would or could start. You see, in my head, someone who hasn’t started a game for four months probably shouldn’t be able to pick up where he left off in 2014.
Say what you want about him, but Sturridge is one of the best players we have and one of the best centre forwards in the Reds’ recent history. On a purely talent basis he is up there with Fernando Torres, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, Luis Suarez, and whoever else you want to lash in the mix. Look at it this way, a 100 per cent fit Sturridge, playing and available for Liverpool all season, wins us well more points than we have now; probably 30 more. We would have finished the league with more points than was possible at the start just because he is so fucking good, and handsome and cool.
The problem we have had is that the version that has been available for the majority of the season has been a pale imitation. Worries about his strength, suitability and mental capacity to play through pain or perceived pain, whether fair or unfair, have pretty much followed any discussion surrounding him this season as opposed to us marvelling at his brilliance. He is one big contradiction – the flag bearer for this slightly Jekyll and Hyde Liverpool team.
Jürgen Klopp has come in for a fair bit of criticism for not having more attacking strength in depth this season, but imagine running training sessions with the best centre forward in Europe every day and then making a plan that doesn’t involve him just winning matches for the Reds whenever he wants. Seriously, for a manager he must be a fucking nuisance. A nightmare. A proverbial thorn in the side. Not because of his injury record or fitness concerns, more that his brilliance, lurking in the shadows, still evident on occasion, must hinder your thoughts in relation to the rest of your squad. You must be naturally inclined to believe that he will produce the goods. It is human nature, particularly if you have got any semblance of optimism running through your veins.
Do we need to buy a replacement for Sadio Mane when he is out? Well yes, but look at this princely bastard, beating his team-mates for fun, won’t he bang them in if he plays like this? Sunday, after not starting for four months, he clicks into gear with movement so bright and that uncanny ability to find space and beat a man that has been so sorely missed and desperately lacking since Mane got injured and succinctly sums up the problem with having him in your squad. He’s too good as a footballer to be considered a luxury item but not robust enough as a footballer to be considered anything more. Too good to throw away, but not good enough to frame and build your side around given that there is no guarantee that he will be available the week after.
The Sturridge dichotomy. He hasn’t played properly since Suarez left and then starts Sunday and is on it and looks invincible; like this thing is easy; like he’s some kind of Ancient Greek God in human form, ghosting past these mere mortals and toying with their emotions like he is playing a massive big game of FIFA with Zeus. Any lingering doubts or worries about his fitness are quickly forgotten as he pulls teams apart and an extended run in the side as one of the elite centre forwards in the league is on the cards, until Zeus gets a cob on and swaps his hip with your nan’s because he is fucking Zeus, mate, and poor Sturridge doesn’t run again until October. Nothing would sum the situation up better than if he was now, after his best game in years, ruled out on Sunday with his dodgy hip. If we are thinking that, imagine what the manager thinks?
And maybe that is part of the problem. Maybe he needs the team to be set up to play to his strengths and yet isn’t in a position at Liverpool to justify that level of confidence from the manager. It is no coincidence that Sunday, he thrived in a system that pitted him more often than not next to a central partner, one able to stretch play and distract markers, with a deep-lying magician looking for his every move. Maybe the counter argument from the player would be that he isn’t necessarily suited to the Reds style of play this year, so change your fucking style of play.
One thing that is for sure, is that Sunday’s performance brings the question of his future right back into everyone’s thought process. What does the future hold for him? Christ knows. Should we sell him? Almost certainly not – he is one of the best centre forwards in the league. Will we be able to rely on him next season? Ask Zeus, you might as well, no other fucker knows. Will the tactical changes that the manager is clearly planning for next season play to his strengths?
Let’s see what Sunday brings and then go from there. Champions League footie with Dan Sturridge in your squad? Seems like a nice idea, doesn’t it? Let’s do that then Reds, eh?
Up the wriggly armed Reds. May they wriggle forever more.