In a week when club legend Jamie Carragher said that Daniel Sturridge is no longer the force of old, Jurgen Klopp has taken a softer approach with the injury-ravaged striker and reckons that his best could be yet to come.
Things have been better around Anfield, that’s for sure. Liverpool’s loss to Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg on Wednesday concluded a two-game joust during which they were blatantly outplayed.
With just one win in 2017 – against Plymouth Argyle at the second time of asking – the incredible momentum they generated during the first half of the season has certainly stalled.
Sadio Mane’s departure for the African Cup of nations didn’t help, but even the fit-again Philippe Coutinho has been unable to enliven them yet.
Sturridge returned to the starting line-up for the defeat to Southampton and, on two occasions, scuppered gild-edge chances that may have swung the tie in Liverpool’s favour. Carragher certainly pulled no punches in his subsequent assessment.
Of course, few players have been burdened with injuries quite like Sturridge, and it’s difficult to imagine that such physical upheaval will not truncate his career.
Last season, Klopp suggested that the England striker needed to toughen up mentally, but Carragher’s comments spoke to something else.
That Sturrdge is simply not the player Brendan Rogers bought, and certainly not the explosive athlete that pulverised defences along with the erstwhile Louis Suarez and Raheem Sterling during the Reds’ compelling title run in the 2013-14 campaign.
“I don’t know exactly about his level of 13/14 because I was not here but that’s not too important," Klopp said.
“I thought after the Southampton game it was a really good game from the physical side of Daniel Sturridge. He was really involved from first to last, there was not a big difference between the first and the second half and all that stuff.
“Usually - and it’s not about speed or anything - Daniel Sturridge scores twice in this game with the chances he had. But he’s a human being so he missed the chances, that’s all.”
Sturridge has managed six goals this term, two in the league and four in the EFL Cup. Last season he sparkled sporadically, with his bravura finish in the Europa League final loss to Sevilla a prime example.
Klopp was determined to only look ahead when it comes to the attacker and, at 27, he is sure that Sturridge can recapture his mojo.
“I don’t know when they measure exactly in the season but last season there were a few injuries, always coming back after injury, playing a little bit, then another. That was the story, it’s not a real problem in this moment.”
On Saturday at Anfield, Liverpool take on struggling Championship outfit Wolves in the FA Cup fourth round (KO 12.30) and will go in search of that elusive second calendar year victory.
They are good. . . just not good enough. When Fenway Sports group bought Liverpool in 2010, if you had said the Merseyside club would reach six semi-finals, three cup finals and finish runners-up in the Premier League over the next seven years, there might have been a cautiously enthusiastic response.