IMAGINE having to be incredibly patient and wait for a rare opportunity to start for Liverpool, then to score two goals in two games only to not see another minute of football thereafter.
That is exactly what has happened with Daniel Sturridge of late.
Sturridge will be well aware by now that Roberto Firmino is Jürgen Klopp’s first choice up top. The Brazilian’s relentless work ethic, tenacity, movement and all-round contribution make him an integral part of the system — a player who facilitates those around him and creates the spaces which allow the likes of Mohamed Salah to constantly get themselves in goal-scoring positions.
With the accumulation of all his injury troubles in recent years, Sturridge will also know he doesn’t possess the explosive pace and physicality he had back in 2013-14 when he enjoyed the finest season of his career, hitting 25 goals in all competitions for Liverpool.
Yet the injuries seem to have dried up significantly, even if it means Sturridge’s game time has to be carefully managed such that he rarely ever starts more than once in a week any more.
With Divock Origi out on loan at Wolfsburg, Sturridge is still a significant member of Klopp’s squad — often the automatic solution when making an attacking substitution, or if he needs to give one of his regular forward players a rest.
Indeed, we’ve seen Sturridge make valuable contributions this season despite being past the peak of his powers. A classy cameo performance off the bench in the away league victory against Leicester City saw him set up Jordan Henderson’s crucial winner.
There’s also the cool, composed finish to break the deadlock against Huddersfield Town at Anfield after a dour first half, lifting the dark cloud over the club which had been present since the damaging defeat at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley.
That was followed up by another goal against Maribor at home — Sturridge’s first for Liverpool in the Champions League. Rather than reward him for his performances, however, Klopp has kept Sturridge in reserve ever since as Liverpool have gone on to put another six points on the board in his absence against West Ham United and Southampton.
With the January transfer window looming, it comes as little surprise, therefore, that reports have emerged in the Mirror linking Sturridge with a potential move away to find more regular game time.
It’s not unfeasible that Sturridge himself will be considering his options and questioning whether he wants to continue his role as a squad player for Klopp, or become the main man somewhere else.
It’s highly questionable, of course, whether Sturridge is physically capable of starting games week in, week out, and a move elsewhere may require a drop down in standard to a mid-table side.
What is clear, though, is that Sturridge will almost certainly never be Klopp’s first choice and it is difficult to see a scenario in which he ever strings a consistent run of starts together again for Liverpool, barring a catastrophic injury crisis.
That said, there will still be plenty of games where Sturridge is needed for Liverpool this season, particularly throughout the gruelling December-January period where heavy rotation will become a necessity for Klopp. To be able to call upon a player of Sturridge’s quality, especially against lower quality opposition when the need to press is less of an issue, is a very good situation to be in.
The question now will be whether Sturridge has the patience to wait for further opportunities in the knowledge that even scoring goals will not guarantee him more game time under Klopp.
Despite the undeserved criticism around his attitude which has followed him throughout much of his career, Sturridge is simply a striker who wants to be playing and scoring goals. It’s only human nature that he’ll become frustrated when he isn’t given much opportunity to do that.
He has only ever been a dedicated and loyal professional for Liverpool and you get a strong sense of how well liked he is by the staff and teammates as an important senior figure in the dressing room.
Beyond his supreme talent, he just seems a genuinely decent and good-humoured person to have in and among the squad — someone who younger players like Dominic Solanke and Ben Woodburn can look up to for advice and support.
It would be a great shame to see him leave in January and from Liverpool’s perspective he’s a player who can still play an important role for the remainder of the season. The likelihood of being able to find a replacement at a reasonable price, anywhere near Sturridge’s quality in January is highly unlikely too.
If the player strongly pushes for a move, however, there’s certainly an argument to say he deserves to be playing more regularly elsewhere at this stage in his career. Much like Lucas Leiva’s situation in the summer, there comes a point when the club has a duty to respect the players’ wishes and let them move on if they’re fit, training hard and still not getting first-team opportunities.
That point may arrive in January or at the end of the season with Sturridge, but it would seem counter productive to hold him as a squad player against his wishes.
Should he depart in January, it would open up a clear path to more first-team action for Solanke and there is also the possibility of deploying either Salah or Sadio Mané more centrally should that be necessary at any point. Both players are tactically smart enough to execute that role well and we’ve seen signs of Salah playing almost like a natural striker already this season.
Ultimately, however, it will depend on whether Sturridge pushes for the move or if he is content to stick it out for another few months and reassess his situation in the summer.
Having a fit Sturridge as part of the squad will only ever be a positive thing for the club and should there be a Champions League or FA Cup run this season, there’s still the possibility for him to write another significant chapter in his Liverpool career.