Daniel Sturridge: Assessing His Liverpool Contribution so Far
Two-and-a-half months after joining the club, Liverpool's new striker, Daniel Sturridge, has already made a positive contribution for the team—and has given hope to fans that, if he remains fit, he can contribute significantly to a top-four charge next season.
Five goals in nine appearances so far have shown that Sturridge can offer a threat that Liverpool have lacked too often this season, and before; that of a real in-the-box attacker who is going to stretch defences, give them pace to worry about centrally and be prepared to take on the shot at the earliest possible moment.
Sturridge being deployed as the furthest forward striker has allowed Luis Suarez to continue with his usual role of roaming around the attacking third, creating havoc where he wants and still being free to join up as the most advanced player from time to time.
It has also meant that Liverpool have sacrificed playing with a third midfielder at times to keep both of their star forwards playing central.
This is a tactical puzzle which Brendan Rodgers will need to overcome as early as possible.
Sturridge can, like Suarez, be deployed from a wider area of the pitch when needed, but the idea behind bringing in a true striker was to keep a threat closer to the goal as often as possible.
The former Chelsea man has given that to the Reds, and it would seem unwise to then move him back out to the flank after he has settled so nicely through the middle.
There have, though, been a couple of downsides to Sturridge's performances thus far, aside from the tactical problem which the manager has yet to solve.
Firstly, he has been unable to remain entirely injury free. Small, nagging problems have kept him out for one or two matches at a time. There have been long-term issues, but certainly annoying and disruptive for a team still trying to find their own consistency and reliability.
A full preseason with his teammates should help in that regard, and Sturridge will hope to stay free of injuries for the remaining eight games of this season too.
Secondly, though linked to the first, is that it has taken him one or two games after injury to rediscover his best touch and technique. This is nothing untoward, it happens to most players, but the Reds still do not have the squad to allow for such time to be taken.
As a central striker, Sturridge will be relied on to score around 20 goals next season.
Suarez has done it this term with games to spare, so as a more out-and-out striker, the challenge has already been laid down for Sturridge to come up with a similar tally.
Exciting and improving link-play with Suarez, as well as Philippe Coutinho and Stewart Downing, give many reasons to be optimistic about what Sturridge can bring to the Reds next season.
His movement off the ball and quick feet in possession bring a new dimension to Liverpool's attack. Previously, perhaps only a Suarez run or dribble might have given defenders problems, but now there is the triple-threat of Coutinho and Sturridge to deal with as well.
How many will Sturridge end this season with for Liverpool?
The double change to Liverpool's final third options has perhaps had something to do with Sturridge's early success as well as his own capabilities.
But Sturridge himself has definitely had a positive early impact on Liverpool's attacking play, and with further games alongside his new teammates it must be hoped he continues to improve.
Putting the ball in the back of the net remains his chief job, and while he has started well with that, it will be his first full season which determines how much of a success he can be for the team, and how much success the club in turns manages to have with Sturridge leading the line.
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