As Liverpool welcomed Mark Hughes’ Stoke to Anfield on Sunday afternoon, there was a certain end-of-season feel in the buildup.
While both sides continue to fight for European qualification through their domestic endeavours in the final games of the 2015/16 Premier League campaign, the competition provided by the likes of Man United, West Ham United and Southampton suggests their focus should be elsewhere.
But as Jurgen Klopp fielded a much-changed side to take on the the Potters on Sunday, the German will have learned a considerable amount about his Liverpool side, no doubt informing Thursday’s selection.
In particular, the positive attacking work of Origi and Sturridge provides Klopp with a headache when it comes to deciding on his forward line against Dortmund.
Liverpool 4-1 Stoke City
Making seven changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Dortmund last Thursday, Klopp looked to field what he described before the game as the “best lineup for Stoke.”
Most notably, this saw the German name two players for their full Premier League debut in Kevin Stewart and Sheyi Ojo, with Stewart joining Milner and Joe Allen in a three-man midfield and Ojo supporting Sturridge in attack alongside Roberto Firmino.
With Stoke starting slowly, Moreno soon capitalised, hammering the ball beyond goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard after less than 10 minutes, following a quick free-kick from Milner.
But while Liverpool seized momentum early on, throughout the first half the tempo shifted dramatically, with both sides troubled by a blustery Merseyside climate.
Bojan Krkic’s near-post header gave Stoke an equaliser before half-time, but a moment of inspiration from the impressive Ojo, bursting past Xherdan Shaqiri to lay up a perfect cross for Sturridge to head home, gave Liverpool a 2-1 lead heading into the interval.
As Klopp addressed his side at half-time, he will have been pleased with what he saw; but, perhaps looking to use this tepid clash to experiment ahead of Thursday, the 48-year-old saw fit to make a change.
Bringing on Origi for Ojo, Klopp made a positive switch, and was rewarded with an improved display in a new shape: the 4-4-2 diamond.
In the aftermath of Liverpool’s draw in Dortmund, debate ensued as to whether Origi had surpassed Sturridge as Klopp’s first-choice striker.
Indeed, the manager fuelled this with his words on the No. 15 before Sunday’s clash.
But rather than treating their performances as binary, as the German analyses this performance ahead of Thursday night’s clash, he should note a promising partnership developing between Origi and Sturridge:
– Origi and Sturridge have played just 290 minutes together this season, but have scored six goals between them in that time.
– With both Origi and Sturridge on the pitch, Liverpool have scored eight goals.
– With only Origi, Liverpool have scored 19 goals in 1,155 minutes.
– With only Sturridge, Liverpool have scored 16 goals in 806 minutes.
– Without either, Liverpool have scored 35 goals in 2,549 minutes.
– This means that without either striker, Liverpool have averaged a goal every 72.8 minutes.
– With only Origi on the pitch, Liverpool have averaged a goal every 60.8 minutes.
– While with only Sturridge, the Reds have averaged a goal every 50.4 minutes.
– Playing together, Origi and Sturridge have averaged a goal every 48.3 minutes between them.
– But most importantly, with both Origi and Sturridge on the pitch, Liverpool have averaged a goal every 36.4 minutes.
Origi’s pace, power, work rate and intelligent movement were on show from the moment he stepped onto the field, complementing Sturridge’s guile, finesse and predatory instinct perfectly in Liverpool’s two-man attack, while Firmino prowled behind.
While 290 minutes over six games is a small sample size, with no marker for consistency between the pair so far, that Origi and Sturridge have proved such a devastating partnership already—with little time to jell—is hugely encouraging looking forward.
Sturridge’s return to full fitness and Origi’s rise to prominence under Klopp promises much for the future.
Dovetailing performances against the likes of Stoke and Southampton in the past, and the profound effect their blend of speed and dynamism has on the likes of Philippe Coutinho in a creative capacity, suggest Origi and Sturridge could be a long-term option for Klopp.
Liverpool vs. Borussia Dortmund
Opting to field Origi in a lone centre-forward’s role in his 4-3-3 in Dortmund was a masterstroke from Klopp, with the 20-year-old’s physicality providing Liverpool with a strong, powerful attacking pivot, grabbing a vital away goal.
But with Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel resting eight of his first-team stars for their crucial 2-2 derby clash with Schalke on Sunday afternoon, it is clear the Bundesliga side are set to go all out at Anfield.
While Klopp could decide to take a similar approach on home soil—keeping a compact midfield structure and a resolute defensive line—an increase in quality in his attack may prove tempting.
Klopp now has Origi, Sturridge, Firmino, Coutinho and Adam Lallana to choose from as he fields either a three- or four-man attack on Thursday night, with each player capable of making his mark on the big stage.
Having rested Coutinho and Lallana on Sunday, it is likely that the midfield pair will return, but with Origi and Sturridge so impressive alongside each other against Stoke, Klopp would be wise to explore the possibility of deploying both from the start.
With his increased options in attack, Klopp can now put together a plan A, B and C.
He may need to if he is to lead Liverpool to triumph in the Europa League.
LIVERPOOL 4-1 STOKE