Is Sturridge's potential the answer to Liverpool’s striker conundrum?

Is Sturridge's potential the answer to Liverpool’s striker conundrum?

Sturridge Potential

When a young Daniel Sturridge completed a seven million pound move from, the then Sheikh-less, Manchester City to Chelsea, he was hailed in some quarters as the perfect replacement for the aging Drogba and a future England star. Things didn’t quite turn out that way for the young forward and despite a promising loan spell at Premier League strugglers Bolton he found himself as a marginalized member of the Chelsea squad. It was only once Andres Villas Boas arrived that Sturridge found himself a regular participant in the Chelsea first team, starting 28 matches in 11/12 compared to none the season before. Villas Boas ill-fated reign did not last long, and after being left as an unused substitute during Chelsea’s Champions League victorious run in, his future under Villas Boas’s replacement, Roberto Di Matteo, did not seem assured. In the summer of 2012/13 Chelsea bought in the likes of Eden Hazard and Oscar to compliment there attack, further pushing Sturridge to the fringes of the squad.

News broke in late December 2012 of Sturridge’s move to Anfield, with the possibility of a more advanced central forward role and a reuniting with, his one time mentor at Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers. It was here that Sturridge appeared to flourish in a central role, feeding off the creativity of Suarez and Couthino to bag an impressive 10 goals in 11 starts and 3 substitute appearances. Following a promising first season in charge, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool appear to be lining up a shot at the Champions League places, but with their talismanic striker Luis Suarez fluttering his eyelashes in the direction of anyone with Champions League football outside of England, has Sturridge progressed enough to solve the new and unwanted striking conundrum facing Rodgers?

Daniel Sturridge: The Evolution as a Goal Scorer

DS-Shooting-Stats

As the statistics above show, Sturridge appears to thrive on Merseyside, averaging at more than a goal per game higher at Liverpool in 12/13 than Chelsea in 11/12. His higher scoring rate could be attributed to an increase in his minutes per shot on target from 71 minutes per shot at Chelsea to one shot on target every 39 minutes at Liverpool. Sturridge also increase his shooting efficiency at Liverpool with an increased shot accuracy of 9%.  As most of you already know the ability to get more shots on target does not equate to an individual being a better striker. Rather, it is in a player’s ability to convert the chances presented to him that will define him as a worthy striker, not just ability to hit the target with an abundance of ranged efforts. In this regard Sturridge has also improved. His chance conversion and clear-cut chance conversion has increased by 4% to 19% and 42% respectively while at Liverpool. A comparison to the other ‘top’ strikers in the league shows that Sturridge is in some exalted company with his clear-cut chance conversion rate being comparable to the likes of Robin Van Persie and, surprise package, Michu. It is also interesting to now that Sturridge has a better chance conversion rate than Luis Suarez (16% compared to 19%) but falls short of the little maestros clear cut conversion rate of 53%.

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There is one point that needs to be investigated here, and that is the reasons behind this increased conversion rate. The answer comes in two interlinking parts. Firstly, and probably quite obviously, Sturridge appears to excel as a central forward rather than as the attacking right midfielder we saw at Chelsea. After the now famed ‘Cannibal of Merseyside’ incident, Sturridge took on leading the line for Liverpool with an extended run in his much-favored position. Secondly, he was playing as a fundamentally more creative team in Liverpool that created 29 more clear-cut chances in 12/13 than Chelsea did in 11/12 (47 for CFC compared to 76 for LFC).  This equated to 19 clear-cut chances falling to Sturridge in 14 appearances, 3 as subsitute, for Liverpool compared to 18 in 30 for Chelsea. If we extrapolate Sturridge’s clear-cut chance conversion over the course of a 38 game season, it could be theorised that he could hit the ‘20 goal’ mark from clear cut chances alone, not taking into account other chances to score.

Sturridge CCCs

Of course there are dangers with how this data is used and I would heed caution when referring to these stats but it could give heart to Liverpool fans that all is not lost without Luis Suarez in the goal scoring department.

Daniel Sturridge: The Effect on the Team

The indirect effect of having Daniel Sturridge as the central striker appears to be an increase in Liverpool’s functionality as an offensive unit, when compared to a team spearheaded by Luis Suarez. This is showcased by the number of chances that there Liverpool team mates create for them when they are the spear head of the attack.

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As can be seen above, taking into account the number of clear-cut chances created by Liverpool for each player, and each players clear-cut chance conversion rate, it could be theorised that Daniel Sturridge could have matched Suarez’s goal return over the course of the season in the clear-cut chances department. Furthermore, Sturridge had a superior chance conversion rate of 19% compared to Suarez’s 16%, which could hint to Sturridge’s enhanced finishing ability and indicate a comparable goal return. One thing that can be said for Suarez is his ability to pull of the majestic and sublime, see his goal against Newcastle, and his ability to create opportunities for others.  But even in this, underrated, area of his game Sturridge can hold his own. During the 12/13 season Luis Suarez created a goal scoring opportunity for his team every 33 minutes, whilst Daniel Sturridge created one every 36 minutes. Similarly, Suarez created 15 clear-cut chances for his teammates in 33 games whilst Sturridge created 5 in 14. If, using the same logic as above, we extrapolate these numbers to over the course of a 38 game season it would equate to a difference of around 4 clear cut chances to score over the season in favour of Suarez. This indicates that in terms of overall chance creation the loss of Suarez can be partially covered by Sturridge and the potential arrival of creative offensive players.

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Is Daniel Sturridge the answer?

In short we do not know. Yet, Sturridge’s evolution into a potent goal scoring ‘Central’ striker indicates the future may not be as bleak as it first seemed for a Suarez-less Liverpool. The extrapolation of past performances to gauge a player’s potential can be a risky business but it would not be hard to infer from the above results that Sturridge is at least capable of contributing at least 20 goals a season next year as part of the current Liverpool set up. This is not taking into account Liverpool’s summer transfers dealings that may bring in more creative players that can compliment Sturridge’s goal scoring ability and provide some goals alongside him, see Jack Watsons intriguing piece on Liverpool’s newest signing Iago Aspas.  Perhaps by surrounding Sturridge with such players, it could elevate his performances and enable him to reach new heights and contribute to a successful season for Liverpool Football Club.

[box_light]All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.comSubscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.[/box_light]