Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge: Injury prone, ineffective substitute and down Jurgen Klopp’s order of preferences

A man who excelled at football’s most important task, putting the ball in the net, faces life in limbo, writes Richard Jolly.

Daniel Sturridge, right, is not Jurgen Klopp's first-choice manager at Liverpool, but the Englishman has not been an effective substitute either. Robbie Jay Barratt / Getty Images
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When Tottenham Hotspur last visited Anfield in October, they were beaten by a virtuoso display of finishing.

“Brilliant,” Jurgen Klopp said. “He could have scored three or four.”

Daniel Sturridge ended up with two goals, also struck the bar, as the London club suffered their first domestic defeat of the season and secured Liverpool’s progress in the League Cup. He terrorised Tottenham’s second-string defence.

Yet as they return to Merseyside on Saturday, he will be confined to the bench.

It is a semi-permanent home for one of the deadliest strikers in England. Little more than a year ago, Sturridge had the fifth best goal-per-game ratio in Premier League history. Last April, he was the fourth quickest post-war player to 50 Liverpool goals.

But now he has not scored a club goal against high-class opponents since his outside-of-the-boot finish against Sevilla in May’s Europa League final.

He had the chance to show he could still deliver important goals in the League Cup semi-final against Southampton, but two opportunities were spurned.

He has not scored in his last seven games. His omission from the team on Saturday should be uncontroversial.

Roberto Firmino may be an out-of-form false nine, but he is secure as Liverpool’s first-choice striker.

Sturridge’s opposite is found in the Tottenham attack, a potent Englishman who delivers consistency.

Harry Kane is on course to reach 20 goals for the third consecutive campaign.

Sturridge, almost four years his senior, has only done so once. Injuries and a frequent status as a squad player are reasons, because a career of 107 league starts has produced 71 goals.

It is an impressive ratio yet the fact that a player in his 28th year has only begun 107 league matches is telling in itself.

He has few miles on the clock but has slowed down. Statistics from Sky Sports suggested his average top speed per game had dropped year on year, from 32.4km in his prime in 2013/14 to 28.5km this season.

He no longer runs in behind defences with such speed. He does not stretch them. He is the specialist finisher who has not finished often enough.

“When he doesn’t score, it’s like playing with 10 men,” Jamie Carragher, the former Liverpool defender and now pundit on Sky Sports, concluded bluntly after the Southampton defeat.

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And Sturridge, remarkably, did not score any of Liverpool’s first 44 league goals this season. In his defence, he has only started one of their last 16 league games, at Sunderland, and he scored then.

Yet the way their system has worked best with Firmino leading the line is emphasised by the fact that one of his few chances, at Burnley in August, came on the right wing.

Only once, when he dragged defenders out of position in a display of Firmino-esque selfless decoy running against Leicester City in September, has he really looked energetic enough for Klopp’s frantic pressing game.

Perhaps an individualist appears too little of a team player. Even in his best year, when he scored 21 goals and Luis Suarez in 2013/14, there was the sense of healthy competition, rather than altruistic dovetailing.

And it is tempting to go back to the start of his Liverpool career when Brendan Rodgers issued what felt a premature warning.

This, he said, was probably the former Manchester City and Chelsea forward’s last chance at a big club.

That was four years ago and Sturridge was only 23. Examine his goal-per-game record, see his record of finding the net in major matches and it feels strange to think Rodgers may be right.

Yet Klopp’s preference for other types of forward is apparent and if, in theory, Sturridge seemed an ideal Plan B, he has been an increasingly ineffective substitute.

His injuries may deter elite clubs from moving for him while his wages could prevent mid-table clubs from affording him.

A man who excelled at football’s most important task, putting the ball in the net, faces life in limbo.

Sturridge and Liverpool are an increasingly uneasy combination, but they could be stuck with each other.

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