Daniel Sturridge believes he is the “best striker that Liverpool has” and submits it as his, might I say humble, “personal opinion”. He was quoted by Sky Sports prior to the Manchester United game on Sunday. Other than this one statement, he made a lot of right noises throughout the pretty long quote. In fact, he did say that Klopp was entitled to his own opinion and hence the team that he chooses and that Sturridge himself will always put his best foot forward and aim to help his team win trophies.
Now if we just focus on the goal scoring stats, they might bear him out. Indeed he scored at a pretty good rate for Chelsea and Bolton (on loan). He has scored 72 and assisted 28 goals in his Premier League career so far (10029 minutes) i.e. he has contributed 100 goals in a 107 starts, pretty much guaranteeing a goal for every start he gets. His time per goal contributed of ~100 minutes in fact fares quite well compared to Divock Origi’s 159 minutes per goal contributed in Premier League and Ligue 1 and 150 minutes per goal contributed by Roberto Firmino. These are the two players Klopp has preferred as strikers over Daniel Sturridge. These numbers definitely seem to vindicate Sturridge’s opinion.
Yet, Jurgen Klopp continues to avoid selecting him in league matches and keeps him primed for the cup matches. Sturridge has played only an average of 40 minutes per each of his 12 appearances in the league, while in the League Cup, he has played around 70 minutes per appearance. Should he not be playing his best striker in the league more regularly? Why does Klopp not utilise Sturridge enough in the League? That is the question we need answering.
Sturridge has missed several matches recently due to injury and perhaps that has resulted in his sharpness dropping a bit and his goal contribution rate dipping with it. His minutes per goal contributed of ~120 minutes in the league this season, is only slightly bettered by Origi’s 119 minutes slightly and is still much better than Firmino’s 161 minutes per goal contributed this season. In fact if we look at all competitions this season, Sturridge seems to be in superb form – contributing a goal every 90 minutes, compared to 155 minutes for Firmino and 127 minutes per goal contributed for Origi. Although these numbers are tipped in Sturridge’s favor by the fact that he has been the first choice striker against lower league opposition in the cups. But even then, on current form as well, Sturridge’s opinion does not seem that far away from reality.
Involvement in Defensive Play
Although his style from Dortmund is not exactly copied in Liverpool, Klopp still wants his players to run tirelessly at opponents if they have the ball and at the ball if it is free. For him, defense starts right at the top and not at the back. At the minimum, he wants his forwards to try and recover the ball as soon as it is lost in the final third. This means they have to tackle and win their tackles more often than not. Now at least during this season, Daniel Sturridge has been averse to tackling. Fantasy Football Stats show that Sturridge has put in zero tackles per 90 minutes this season. Compare that to 1.0 for Origi and 1.7 for Firmino, of which 88% and 71% respectively are accurate. In terms of ball recoveries as well, Sturridge’s numbers (2.2 per 90 minutes) lag those of Origi (2.8) and Firmino (4.6). This tells me that Sturridge is a really good player, once his team mates are in control of the ball but Firmino and Origi put in more effort in to getting the ball from an opponent’s control.
Sturridge’s injury problems are well documented and could be a major reason for Klopp not selecting him for the grueling league matches, of which there are many more than cup matches. Since joining Liverpool, Sturridge has missed 81 matches due to injury. Although these 81 matches are across all competitions, the number says a lot. He has missed an equivalent of two full league seasons (plus five games), in a period of less than four seasons. In comparison, Firmino has missed a total of 12 games in his entire senior career spanning almost five seasons. Divock Origi has meanwhile missed a total of 23 games in his senior career, all focused in a four month period in the second half of 2015-16 season. Why would Klopp play a brittle player in the 38 game league where the matches come thick and fast, while he can play him in cup tournaments, where the matches come at a relatively slower pace.
Playing an ace striker in a cup match also has the benefit that if he can shoot even at his average rate, his team’s progression in the cup is almost guaranteed, while in the league games Liverpool’s goals are shared around and they are not dependent on one particular individual.
So someone needs to inform Sturridge that it is not because he is a poor striker that Klopp does not pick him in the league. It is because of his lack of tackling and brittle physiology. In fact, him being the best striker in the squad, along with these two points, could be the reason why Klopp does not use him as widely in the league. Yes, Daniel Sturridge is the best striker in Liverpool’s squad, but he is not the striker that Jurgen Klopp wants in their league campaign.