Thursday 19 April 2018

Sturridge relishing lead role as Liverpool's thoughts turn to Dortmund encounter

Liverpool 4-1 Stoke City

Liverpool's Divock Origi applauds the fans at the end of the match. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Divock Origi applauds the fans at the end of the match. Photo: Reuters
Divock Origi celebrates
Divock Origi scores the third goal for Liverpool. Photo: Reuters
Daniel Sturridge scores the second goal for Liverpool. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp. Photo: Reuters

Chris Bascombe

If Jurgen Klopp was evaluating how Daniel Sturridge would respond to his omission in midweek, he left Anfield yesterday reassured. Mood assessors and body language experts have been convening on Merseyside to study the Liverpool striker, barely a week passing without his manager being quizzed on his striker's status, temperament, fitness and form.

On days like this, Klopp understands the fixation with the enigmatic but supremely talented centre-forward. Sturridge was outstanding as Liverpool ensured there was no expensive compromise in domestic policy now trophy priorities have shifted to Europe.

The England striker scored, he linked the play and - perhaps most thrillingly for the Liverpool coach - his work-rate was exceptional as he assumed senior status in a vastly changed line-up.

Liverpool shrugged off an abject Stoke with an especially dominant second-half display, enabling Sturridge to exhibit his full repertoire.

How comforting it is for Klopp to prepare for Borussia Dortmund's arrival with so many options across his line-up. Divock Origi (right), preferred to Sturridge in midweek, also came off the bench to score twice. The pair worked so well in tandem it may not be a case of one or the other on Thursday, but you can understand why the manager might get tetchy when asked about who will be left out when it is the pleasure of having a genuine choice that matters most.

Klopp even sought to publicly volunteer his appreciation of the 26-year-old's effort.

"Usually you ask me about Sturridge but I want to speak about him this time," he said. "He worked really hard and it was a brilliant goal. He does not have to defend like Lucas Leiva, but he has to defend smart, closing spaces, so I am really happy with his performance."

Such acknowledgement reflected Sturridge thriving with the responsibility in a team selection that had both Thursday and, one suspects, a recent loss to Southampton in mind.

When Klopp kept the same line-up following the Europa League win over Manchester United two weeks ago, his players were running on empty.

It was essential limbs were preserved for his former club in midweek, although initially it seemed the passions of a subdued crowd were also being saved.

That would change in the second half. Klopp made seven changes from the side who drew at Dortmund, although the inclusion of Sturridge and Roberto Firmino ensured this was hardly a weak line-up. Winger Sheyi Ojo made his first Premier League start, as did midfielder Kevin Stewart. The youngsters performed well.

Although teenager Ojo started nervously and would last only 45 minutes, he sparkled in the build-up to Sturridge's 32nd-minute headed goal. He tricked Phil Bardsley before clipping a cross on to the striker's forehead six yards out as Sturridge restored an advantage Liverpool had earlier surrendered when their vulnerabilities from set-pieces were exposed again.

Xherdan Shaqiri clipped in a free-kick and Bojan was free to glance a 22nd-minute header past Simon Mignolet.

There was similar indecision each time Stoke had a free-kick and corner in the first half, but the visitors did not bother to break sweat after half-time.

Alberto Moreno had struck Liverpool ahead from 25 yards after only eight minutes, the generous appraisal being that goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard was undone by a ball that caught in the wind.

Liverpool began the second half just as well, Origi benefiting from more indecision from Haugaard to convert James Milner's 50th-minute cross.

The inevitable fourth goal arrived when Origi cut in from the left to swerve past Haugaard and Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, admitted his team were in "damage limitation" mode from then on.

A verbal altercation between Hughes and full-back Erik Pieters summed up Stoke's woes, the Dutchman duly substituted without even an icy glare from his manager. "Those things happen. We needed to be a bit more solid and I felt I needed to make a change, which I did," said Hughes."

Klopp had no such concerns after the most emphatic home league win since he took over. The Premier League table does not make pleasant reading, but his side have been playing well for several weeks.

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