Thursday 14 December 2017

Sturridge as much at fault as FA – Rodgers

Everton 3 Liverpool 3

Chris Bascombe

For reasons best known to himself and his choreographer, Daniel Sturridge opted to celebrate his equaliser at the climax of a captivating Merseyside derby with a jig in front of Everton supporters.

Had he headed to the corner of Goodison Park occupied by the Liverpool fans, once the applause subsided he may have heard a shout of, 'thanks for coming, Daniel, but any chance you can swerve England friendlies and join us for the first 79 minutes next time?'

Perhaps Sturridge likes the idea of arriving fashionably late to the city's biggest engagements. Playing for England and jeopardising involvement in a game of this stature is high risk. As well as securing a point for his team, Sturridge suppressed a club-versus-country quarrel.

He had 11 minutes to prevent a fallout, so it is testimony to how good he is that he managed it.

Nevertheless, it was preposterous that Sturridge was cast as super-sub, half of the league's most potent strike partnership unable to start because he played 90 minutes in an inconsequential international while – in the words of Brendan Rodgers – "clearly unfit".

It was to Rodgers' credit that he said the onus was on the player as much as the English FA to manage priorities and exertions. Some players – Luis Suarez the prime example – need to be 100pc injured to be absent. Sturridge causes fretting unless 100pc fit.

"I am looking at him in training on Friday and he is not right. Whose responsibility is that? It is the association, the player," Rodgers said. "All I can do is look and assess who will give me absolutely everything when they go out on the field.

"We have a game against a massive rival away from home. I need everyone as close to 100pc as I possibly can. He is clearly not. A lot of players, especially the top ones, are never 100pc fit. Suarez will never have been 100pc in his time here. Different personalities, different types.

FITNESS

"Daniel has been a match winner for us throughout his time here but I didn't feel, because of that level of fitness, he was going to be that for us.

"I have seen it before. There is a trend. There are some games when he hasn't played well and that has happened on the back of not training. With any player, you have to put yourself on the training field. If you do that, you will be in with a chance of playing."

The timing of Sturridge's equaliser ensured that it was a fortuitous draw for the visitors in a game with more turning points than a Formula 1 circuit.

Had Kevin Mirallas been given a red card for decorating Suarez's knee with stud marks, or Joe Allen not missed a chance with his side 2-1 up that will probably ensure a week's therapy with the club's resident psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, Liverpool might have turned a first-half lead into a comfortable win.

Equally, without goalkeeper Simon Mignolet the second half could have been an embarrassment as a Liverpool midfield that looks increasingly fragile at tough venues was exposed.

Aside from Mignolet and Suarez, Jon Flanagan was their best player. They still need a top-class defensive midfielder. At the moment they look like flat-track bullies. That is an improvement, but not enough. Everton possess a youthful vibrancy in the area their neighbours need to strengthen. James McCarthy and Ross Barkley, especially, were outstanding.

Romelu Lukaku recovered from a difficult first half to strike twice, the shame for his temporary employers being a million will be added to his transfer fee with every goal. Bill Kenwright may need several more revivals of his musical 'Blood Brothers' to raise funds to make that deal permanent, were Chelsea inclined to sell.

Roberto Martinez refuses to accept Everton should be seen as a top-four contender – understandably cautious, but too modest.

They have nothing to fear, certainly not from the side they have finished above in successive seasons. "If we go into the last 10 games with a chance to be in the top four, then we can be seen as a contender. It's too early," Martinez said.

Under his stewardship, the nature of this derby has already changed, Everton no longer the plucky underdog trying to stifle and steal a win or draw, but capable of being more proactive.

It made for a cracking spectacle. Philippe Coutinho's clever finish and Suarez's free-kick had put Liverpool ahead after Mirallas' equaliser. Lukaku's double – the second after slack marking from a corner – seemed to have secured the points until Sturridge connected with Steven Gerrard's beautifully weighted set-piece with two minutes left.

Liverpool escaped with a point and Sturridge avoided a sterner inquest into why a friendly international was considered more important than the Merseyside derby. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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