Daniel Sturridge’s display in Liverpool’s 4-1 win over Leicester City gives Jurgen Klopp some big calls over his selection for Friday’s trip to Chelsea.
Producing a fine team display and scoring four goals to thrash the champions, Saturday’s victory to mark a new era at Anfield could hardly have played out better.
The Reds rose to the occasion in front of Anfield’s biggest crowd in nearly 40 years with some shining individual showings, including from the majestic Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, ensuring the points stayed on Merseyside.
It was the attacking trio’s goals that sealed victory, but equally as crucial to the success was the masterful display of another weapon in Klopp’s increasingly lethal armoury.
Indeed, Sturridge’s role in dismantling Claudio Ranieri’s side proved just as influential, even if it not as spectacular, and was vital to the near-perfect evening that sufficed.
Sturridge Dominates Leicester
Following an ineffective display out wide at Burnley with limited action at Tottenham, Sturridge was restored to the starting lineup in familiar territory at Anfield.
Flanked by the electric Mane and classy Firmino, the England striker returned to his natural and preferred central role, and having voiced his frustration at playing wide, Sturridge was clearly more settled leading the line—and visibly determined to show it.
He did just that with a top-class display, expertly unlocking Leicester’s usually well-drilled defence with his intelligence, movement and craft proving too clever for the Foxes’ physical central pair, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth.
This game intelligence proved crucial for Firmino to open the scoring, with Sturridge’s in-to-out run—dragging Morgan and Danny Simpson—vacating central space for the Brazilian to receive, swivel brilliantly and finish.
It was a fantastic move that saw Leicester carved open thanks to Sturridge’s movement, but it was one that was also started by the striker who—oppositely to the lazy and selfish player portrayed—initially tracked back as the visitors broke to win possession on halfway.
Playing two key parts in the opening goal, Sturridge then turned direct provider for the second, latching onto Jordan Henderson’s ball with a reassuring burst of pace before sending a sublime backheel for Mane to convert.
Almost single-handedly destructing Ranieri’s rearguard, Sturridge’s 76-minute display was a joy to watch with only a goal missing, which he was denied by smart stops from Kasper Schmeichel.
Despite leaving Anfield without a first Premier League goal of 2016/17, it was a display of real class from Sturridge, who departed to a deserved standing ovation from the majority of the 53,075 present.
It has also left Kopites wanting more, but will the ex-Chelsea forward be handed the chance to provide on return to his former club?
Klopp’s False-9 Preference
With Sturridge having presented his argument to be Klopp’s trusted striker, the Liverpool boss has some interesting decisions to make for the Stamford Bridge trip.
With the level of quality and options available it’s probably more of a pounding migraine than a headache for Klopp, who has the luxury of being able to set up in various systems and for numerous scenarios.
But Klopp has continually deployed a false-nine setup in big clashes away from Anfield since taking charge, preferring a hardworking and high-energy approach to give his team an immediate foothold.
This has usually seen Firmino lead the line supported by Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and, this season, Mane, as seen at Arsenal and Tottenham last month.
Indeed, it was this setup, with Firmino flanked by the former duo, that saw Klopp claim his first Premier League win at Stamford Bridge last October.
The work of the industrious and free-roaming trio was key to the Reds’ superb 3-1 win on a day Liverpool produced a mature performance, retaining composure to “strike back” from falling behind to claim victory.
And it is this intricate and flexible system that has also provided the catalyst for the 4-1 and 4-3 beatings of Manchester City and recently Arsenal on the road, helping Liverpool improve their big-game mentality.
Claiming such results, it’s no surprise that Klopp has consistently utilised this tactic, which could be deployed again on Friday, with Coutinho set to be available to return.
But yet to head into a big away clash in such positive form or having shredded one of the league’s best defences to pieces, Klopp could be tempted to ditch his usual approach in search for more of the same.
There’s little reason to change what worked so emphatically last time out or why Sturridge should make way after such a performance in which Mane and Firmino thrived off his intelligence and technical play.
The lethal trio can certainly inflict similar damage on Chelsea, and it leaves a big call for Klopp to make.
Big Decision for Klopp
With two impressively productive attacking setups presented to Klopp, the German has some key decisions to make on Friday night.
Using Firmino as the central point of attack has proved a real success in big away clashes as noted, as well as individually for the Brazilian, who has a superb six goals and six assists in 14 games leading the line.
Therefore, Klopp’s trusted system perhaps should not be disregarded for one blitzing home display against the under-par champions.
But the all-round attacking showing inspired by Sturridge’s dominance cannot be ignored, nor the usual system deployed without genuine consideration—especially at a time the No. 15 shows signs of recapturing a match-winning level of form.
Taking the game to Chelsea from the off, putting them on the back foot with Sturridge spearheading the attack could prove key to another productive trip, and it would be a shame if he’s not handed the chance to build on his display with the difference he could make.
Sticking with Saturday’s ruthless se-up could prove hugely rewarding and a move worth making, but at the same time, it would be understandable if the German stuck with his tried-and-tested away-day approach once more.
How Klopp will set up remains to be seen, but he certainly has food for thought following Sturridge’s sublime Leicester showing.