Daniel Sturridge scores goals. After coming to prominence when on loan at Bolton in 2010/11 with eight in 11 starts, his career stalled somewhat on his return from the North West to Chelsea, and there was a school of thought, when he signed for Liverpool in January 2013, that suggested that he was entering the proverbial last chance saloon. Since then, of course, he has shown that Chelsea’s lack of faith in him was the anomaly. Ten goals in 11 starts following his move, and then 21 in 26 last time out, were followed by a goal 78 minutes into this season, against Southampton. Two barren matches followed before injury struck, but he was highly prominent against Spurs, and it is hard to envisage that his return to the Anfield line-up will not be marked by a seamless return to the rich vein of scoring form that he had previously been enjoying in a Liverpool shirt. In his absence, meanwhile, Liverpool have been scoreless against Aston Villa and Basel, and toothless against many of the rest. Mario Balotelli has played 341 league minutes and scored no goals. Rickie Lambert has played 127 minutes, again for no return, and Fabio Borini has not found the net in 95 minutes of football. It is all a far cry from the free-flowing, free-scoring Liverpool of last season; Brendan Rodgers will hope that Sturridge’s return will change that.
More than goals, there is an argument that Liverpool suffered a psychological blow when Sturridge succumbed to injury. The departure of Luis Suárez over the summer was always going to leave the Reds without a figurehead. While Steven Gerrard may have been the driving force, Suárez – and his partnership with Sturridge – were what made them, for a few heady months, the form horse for the title. When, within the space of four league games, Liverpool found themselves without both, small wonder that they struggled to adjust. Success can be a double-edged sword like that. Manchester United have encountered their own difficulties while trying to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. And as Arsenal will find – by Ivan Gazidis’s own admission at their AGM this week – when Arsène Wenger finally steps down, as Spurs found when trying to replace Gareth Bale, there is no bigger hole than that left by the absence of the best. There are very few teams – indeed, there are very few organisations – that would not struggle when faced, within a month of the departure of a leader, with the lack of the next best thing. Sturridge’s return from injury will make a lot of people at Anfield feel a little more comfortable.
There was, of course, a third part of the attacking jigsaw for Liverpool last season. If Sturridge and Suárez took home many of the goals and much of the glory, their success would not have been the same without a star turn from Raheem Sterling. The teenager has been in the news this week, subjected to the usual hot air from all sides for telling his manager that he was tired; but maybe he was. He is his team’s top goal scorer this season, and ranks second only to Jordan Henderson for assists. He has played more minutes in the league than any outfield player save for Henderson, Gerrard and Dejan Lovren, as well as featuring for all of both of Liverpool’s Champions League games. He is only 19, and for the last few weeks, has come to be seen not only as his country’s only saviour but also – as the sole survivor of last season’s great Anfield attacking triumvirate – the repository of most of his club’s hopes. Tiredness, as those readers glancing at this piece in the office as Friday afternoon drags towards its conclusion will know all too well – can be mental as much as physical. A release of pressure on Sterling brought about by the return of Sturridge can reinvigorate both, and bring Liverpool a little closer to returning to last year’s heights.
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