Tuesday 21 November 2017

The defining moments of Daniel Sturridge's Liverpool career are here - He needs to start rewarding Klopp's faith

Liverpool boss needs payback from patient policy with injury-prone star

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge. Photo: Reuters

Chris Bascombe

The defining moments of Daniel Sturridge's Liverpool career are upon us.

Over the next 21 days, Liverpool have six fixtures of increasing importance across three competitions, starting with tonight's League Cup semi-final first leg against Southampton and culminating in the Premier League visit of Chelsea on January 31.

In the absence of Sadio Mane, Jurgen Klopp is expected to turn to Sturridge tonight - at a venue and in a competition where the striker introduced himself to his current manager with two brilliant goals in a 6-1 win just over a year ago.

Sturridge's double at St Mary's on December 2 last season was almost immediately followed by an injury that ruled him out until Valentine's Day.

This is the recurring theme of his Liverpool career, the untimely strains as frequent as goals.

"Listen, we have spoken a lot of times about this," said Klopp, when asked what is often described in the Melwood press room as 'The Daniel Question'. "Does he stay fit? If Daniel is fit are there ever any arguments here about his quality? No.

"We had the time when he was already fit and he didn't start because there was a difference between being fit and match-fit and all that stuff. But it is a big step in the right direction.

"If he stays on this fitness level and improving as he always should, that is perfect - perfect news for him and for us that he can perform. It would be cool if we could speak like this for the next few weeks and months.

"It would be fantastic, of course, and sometimes you need to feel lucky with timing. That's how it is. Sadio is away, Philippe [Coutinho] is on the way back and Daniel is already back. That helps, for sure. I hope it stays like this for him."

The three 'ifs' in that reply are the most pertinent. Now, more than at any time since Sturridge (right) moved to Liverpool from Chelsea four years ago, he has reached a junction.

Former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers decided 18 months ago he had no choice but to build a team independent of Sturridge and consider his availability a bonus.

Klopp's swift insight into that injury history forced him down the same path, which has ensured even when the striker returned he has not been guaranteed a starting place in an evolving team.

He has become the back-up plan, on the bench while Mane, Roberto Firmino and Coutinho formed one of the most exciting attacking trios in the Premier League.

Mane's Africa Cup of Nations duty offers Sturridge the chance to leave an imprint on what could be a glorious Kop campaign. But the feeling is also growing that this could be the 27-year-old's final season on Merseyside as whatever frustrations have grown with his injuries at critical times have been matched by his disappointment at being left out when fit.

Arsenal, West Ham and an assortment of clubs in China have been mentioned recently.

Liverpool would not entertain any bids this month, but might feel differently at the end of the season. They could still command a hefty fee for the England international.

"We don't have to think about it because we are exactly in the middle of the season," said Klopp.

"How good you can be depends on a lot of things. His talent and skill there is absolutely no doubt about.

"He has cleverness and everything you need on the pitch is absolutely outstanding. But he has not been often enough fit.

"Until now - even when he didn't score - he made really good performances. Even when he didn't score he was so important in a lot of these games.

"He fits really well in our style of play. That is good for him, good for us. Nobody in the squad is in doubt about him being a wonderful player."

With Coutinho likely to be restricted to a return from the bench, and captain Jordan Henderson nursing a heel injury, Mane's absence is not the only issue for Klopp tonight.

"There is no player exactly like Sadio. It's not perfect but it is not a problem. We'll find solutions," he said. "There are still options. We will try to figure out which one works best."

At differing times and for different reasons both Sturridge and Klopp have been made to wait. Their patience now needs its reward.

Southampton v Liverpool, Live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

Telegraph.co.uk

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