Shoulders slumped, sluggish, disinterested - the curious case of Daniel Sturridge
Restored to the starting line-up, this felt like the ideal game for Daniel Sturridge to prove to Jurgen Klopp he has been unfairly left out of the team.
It was an opportunity to show he can be a far more reliable source of goals playing through the middle of Liverpool’s attack than Roberto Firmino.
That, at least, would have been the thought swirling around inside Sturridge’s head when he found out he was going to be in the team. It was probably what Klopp had challenged him to do when he told the former Chelsea striker he was replacing Firmino in the starting XI.
Sturridge, though, is a perplexing character; a difficult person to read, a tricky player to motivate. Whatever performance he had hoped for, whatever reaction Klopp thought he would get from the England international, it could not have been this. Sturridge did little right.
There have to be serious questions asked about his confidence because he is simply not the same player who once pushed Harry Kane hard to be considered first-choice striker for the England team.
Sturridge’s body language was poor, shrugging dismissively at the bench when instructions were barked at him early on. His shoulders were slumped, his movement sluggish and his finishing lacking sharpness.
The 28-year-old’s decision making was scrambled throughout, an ambitious attempt to lob Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot, even though the Republic of Ireland international was not far off his line, ended up in the Gallowgate End. It set the tone.
In the second half, presented with a simple chance after a horrendous mistake by Ciaran Clark, Sturridge, unmarked, ten yards out, hit a shot straight at Elliot. Minutes later he was trying to score with an overhead kick from the edge of the area.
As everyone inside the stadium scratched their heads, Sturridge appeared to lose his. Twice in quick succession he drifted offside when he had a clear view of the defensive line. Both times it wasted promising attacking positions for his team.
Liverpool’s supporters began to think about an alternative and the sound of Firmino’s name being sung high in the Leazes End could clearly be heard at pitch level. It did not take long for Klopp to agree with them and Sturridge left the pitch looking like a man who wanted to sit down. That’s not a good sign for a player supposedly trying to force their way back into the starting line-up.
Sturridge does not look happy, he does not look like he is enjoying being a Liverpool player and it must raise doubts about his long-term future at Anfield.
If Klopp can find a replacement in January, Sturridge could well be off. There will be no shortage of interest. Sturridge is too good a player to be sat on the bench every weekend, but he does not look like regaining his best form under Klopp. A fresh start might be in everyone’s interest.
Moment which changed the match
Liverpool had been dealing well with Newcastle’s counter-attacking, but the decision to play such a high line is always risky, particularly when your two centre backs are liable to brain freeze. Jonjo Shelvey’s through ball was a delicious one, but it went straight through the middle of the pitch and into the path of Joselu, who just about scored the equaliser.
Most influential player
The Newcastle captain has been winning some rave reviews in recent weeks and this was another brilliant defensive display as he led the home team’s rearguard action. An England call up cannot be far away.
8 - A lively and noisy atmosphere was fuelled by a Rafa Benitez love-in, unsurprising given his popularity with both sets of supporters. Both sang his name regularly, before, during and after the final whistle. He will have enjoyed that.
Craig Pawson - 5
Not a great game, inconsistent in what he judged to be a foul, he particularly angered the home supporters with a series of baffling calls either side of half time. The big decision, though, came just before the hour mark when Joe Gomez jumped to try and clear a high ball and caught Christian Atsu in the head. It could have been a red card, Pawson went with the yellow.