Divock Origi played a match-winning role in Liverpool’s 2-0 win over AC Milan, further enhancing his chances of being a key man at Anfield this season.
The Reds eased to victory against their two-time Champions League final opponents on Sunday, making it five wins in six pre-season outings so far this summer.
Second-half goals from Origi and Roberto Firmino proved to be the difference between the two sides, and there were several positives to take from the game.
Origi’s expertly taken strike, having shown quick feet to outfox former Liverpool man Gabriel Paletta, was most certainly one of them.
The 21-year-old looked a real threat on his return to the team, having replaced Daniel Sturridge at half-time, and his potential is frightening.
While many have Sturridge pencilled in to be Jurgen Klopp‘s first-choice striker in 2016/17, it is unlikely to be as clear-cut as some think.
Origi or Sturridge?
You only have to look at last season to see how highly Klopp regards Origi.
The Belgian usurped Sturridge in the side during the business end of the campaign, and only an ankle injury picked up against Everton allowed the latter to win his place back.
Origi was outstanding at times, scoring in both Europa League clashes with Borussia Dortmund and registering a double against Stoke City.
He offered endless willing running, clever movement, brute strength and end product. Whisper if quietly, but there was even a likeness to Klopp’s world-class former Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski on occasions.
As he proved in the second half at the Levi’s Stadium, Origi’s ability to stretch the opposition defence is something Sturridge cannot always offer, and his more combative style of play can sometimes look a better fit in Klopp’s system.
The Liverpool manager will never pick a player solely on reputation, and should Origi continue his impressive start to pre-season, it should be no surprise to see him start at Arsenal on August 14.
However, for all Origi’s great qualities, and vast potential, there should still be no doubting that Sturridge is the superior all-round footballer, as things stand.
The 26-year-old is Liverpool’s best player, along with Philippe Coutinho, and when fit and firing, he is one of Europe’s most gifted and lethal marksmen.
The former Chelsea man is being eased back into things this summer—understandable given Sturridge’s wretched luck with injuries—and we should not expect full sharpness from him yet.
Getting into great positions to combine with Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum against Milan, however, he did showcase his intelligence as a top-level striker.
He is one of Liverpool’s very few genuine game-changers, and he will surely have an enormous part to play if the Reds are to mount a Premier League title challenge in 2016/17.
It does seem unthinkable to have a fit Sturridge sitting on the substitutes’ bench, but like it or not, Klopp will do it his way.
Every Liverpool supporter will have an opinion on who should be first choice—Danny Ings will feel he has something to say, too—and although Sturridge is top of most peoples’ lists, you wouldn’t bank on it happening.
Klopp is beginning to assemble both a sizeable and quality laden squad, and this pre-season has shown just how many options the 49-year-old now has in attacking areas.
Sturridge, Origi and Ings should be enough to get by up front, given the fact there is no European football at Anfield this season.
In attacking midfield, there is an abundance of class, with plenty of versatility in what is likely to be a 4-3-3 formation.
Adam Lallana and the debutant Wijnaldum, both famed for thriving in a No. 10 role, played in central midfield against Milan, offering support running from box to box, and did not look remotely out of place there.
Philippe Coutinho and Mane flanked Sturridge in the first half, and are capable of playing out wide or centrally, while Sheyi Ojo‘s exciting cameo showed he can be an asset moving forward.
Then there is Firmino, who has shown he can easily excel as either as a centre-forward or a No. 10, while he impressed cutting in from the left flank on Sunday.
While the likes of Wijnaldum and Mane may not be the world-renowned, high-profile signings many were hoping for this summer, Klopp has brought them in for a reason.
He knows what an asset they can be for his side, and they are part of a very exciting group of attacking players at Liverpool.
We are at a stage where a long-term injury to Sturridge is no longer fatal—that is crucial, given his recent track record.
It is almost impossible to second-guess Klopp, and we will have to wait until that Premier League opener at the Emirates in a fortnight to find out what he feels his strongest current team is.
Origi showed against Milan that he will not allow Sturridge to be first choice without a fight, though, which can only be good when it comes to competition for places.