During Liverpool’s recent misery, the upcoming return of Daniel Sturridge has become a crutch which Brendan Rodgers must not lean on, writes Jack Lusby.
Throughout Liverpool’s poor recent form there has been one underlying silver lining: The return of Daniel Sturridge from injury.
When the England striker’s lay-off was extended in October, the onus was on Reds manager Brendan Rodgers to focus his famed pragmatism on adapting his system to compensate for this loss.
Instead, the Ulsterman has stuck with a disappointing formula, and Liverpool’s form has suffered.
Sturridge is set to return for the side’s next game away to Crystal Palace following the international break, and much expectation is heaped on the shoulders of the 25-year-old.
I feel so good right now… ??
— Daniel Sturridge (@DanielSturridge) November 10, 2014
P.s training was class. Happy to be back. Thank you Jesus.
— Daniel Sturridge (@DanielSturridge) November 12, 2014
The striker’s positivity is infectious, and so is his form.
Recently, Rodgers effectively highlighted Sturridge as the one player who can save Liverpool’s season, claiming that “when he comes back into the team, you will see the confidence because of the movement and the dynamic.”
The Englishman is clearly key to the way Liverpool play but, with his injuries almost as frequent as his goals, the club will need to find a way to play without him too.
Sturridge’s Return: The Theory
With Sturridge looking to return for Liverpool’s next game against Crystal Palace, the Englishman has been held up as the solution to many of the club’s varied problems.
Firstly, from a managerial point of view, Rodgers would shelve his awkward 4-2-3-1 formation and return to the midfield diamond that proved so devastating last season.
In doing so, Sturridge would partner Mario Balotelli as part of a front two. With the Italian so far struggling as a lone striker, understandably given his skill set, the intelligent movement of the No. 15 would off-set Balotelli’s creativity.
The signs were there during the 3-0 victory away to Spurs—Sturridge and Balotelli can be a great partnership.
Furthermore, the midfield diamond would allow Raheem Sterling to be utilised in his best position, in the No. 10—the 19-year-old has looked jaded on the wing of late, despite remaining one of the club’s best performers.
It can also be argued that Philippe Coutinho is best suited in a deeper, No. 8 role.
Furthermore, the support of two flanking midfielders would see Steven Gerrard’s lack of physical prowess catered for, and the Reds captain could dictate play safe in the knowledge that his more energetic colleagues would pick up the pieces—that is if Rodgers continues to select him.
To pin all of these hopes on one player would be foolish enough, were it not for the alarming fitness issues that have continued to plague Sturridge throughout his Liverpool career so far.
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) October 30, 2014
Last season, Sturridge made 29 Premier League appearances, scoring 21 goals. This immaculate ability to find the net masked the Englishman’s missing nearly a quarter of the side’s league games.
Once more in 2014/15, Sturridge is missing large chunks of action, and recently speculated as to whether his fitness issues are hereditary:
“Maybe it’s my body type, maybe it’s hereditary. Both my uncles had injuries, and my dad had them as well. Maybe it’s the Caribbean vibes, maybe I have speed but maybe it makes you more vulnerable because of the fast twitch muscles and the speed in which you’re moving. I am vulnerable to muscle injuries.”
Sturridge’s game is based on devastating speed and movement, and so long as he is at the top of his game this will remain so, and therefore injuries will always be part and parcel.
His catalogue of injuries is alarming.
— Sky Sports News (@SkySportsNews) October 18, 2014
The type of player that Sturridge is serves as a double-edged sword for Rodgers: His performances are the cause both of Liverpool’s success and the player’s failing fitness.
As such, and the manager already knows this, Sturridge must be managed carefully both in training and on the pitch.
But otherwise, Rodgers must accommodate for the inevitable lay-offs that the striker will endure, and this will be either by tailoring his system to suit the strengths of players such as Balotelli, or sign a similar player to serve as deputy.
“We believe he will be world class…Now, he is a top player. He has everything but the deal was that he could not play for us now. That was unfortunate because he can run in behind, he can keep the ball, he can press and he can run.”
The qualities that Origi possesses are much-akin to that of Sturridge, but with the striker on loan with Lille until the end of the season, other possibilities must be explored.
Rodgers’ comments that the club “had attempts for other strikers that didn’t materialise for one reason or another,” allude to the failure to conclude a deal for now-Chelsea striker Loic Remy.
In truth the Frenchman would have been an excellent foil for Sturridge, and an able replacement when the striker was injured.
Now however, Rodgers must look elsewhere.
For the short-term, the determined Fabio Borini can serve as this deputy, and should be included more often than he has been so far. But in the long-term, signing a suitable stand-in for Daniel Sturridge should be made a priority.
How can Liverpool address their form when without Daniel Sturridge? Let us know in the comments below.