By Jack Gaughan at Anfield
Daniel Sturridge’s opening gambit as a Liverpool player revealed as much about the character of the £12 million signing as the self-awareness he may require to become an Anfield success.
“I see myself as a striker. I think I perform best there because my attributes, I believe, are used best as a central striker,” he revealed. “But I have played on the wing and have learned a lot doing so. I’d never refuse to play in that position and I’ve never demanded to play up front, either.”
The potential for trouble, seemingly, has already reared its head.
Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy – for want of a better word – deems that Luis Suarez operates through the middle, ably aided by an attacking trio behind him. In that sense, Sturridge’s almost certain inclusion on the right-hand side makes the Reds eminently more dangerous in the final third and adds a greater goal threat.
Stewart Downing scored his first Premier League goal for the club against Fulham just before Christmas, but despite his upturn in form, will undoubtedly be out of the Melwood doors quicker than you can say “he’s even managed an assist” when a suitable offer comes in from elsewhere.
He was impressive in the win over Sunderland, but did not come up against much and Rodgers will still be looking for a more consistent performer with added flair.
“He made his name at Manchester City and was one of the top young strikers in European football. You make a move as a young player and it’s always going to be difficult, because he is a goalscorer, and the only spell he’s had was at Bolton. When he plays games he scores goals,” Rodgers said of his new signing.
“He gives us power, presence and mobility at the top end of the field. He knows he has to perform if he wants to play at one of the biggest clubs in the world. If he wants to stay at the big level, this is probably his last chance. I’ve got every faith that over his time here he’ll prove a real hit.”
And so, with Sturridge likely to be joined by Blackpool’s Tom Ince, Rodgers looks set to rejig his three in behind Suarez, an area of the pitch so crucial to the way in which he wants to play. With the right mix in there, Liverpool can start to truly believe that the top four is within their reach, and may actually muster the performances required to achieve that.
As for Sturridge, he seems to have already resigned himself to the idea of compromising his position as a central striker to enhance his career. It is admirable in a way – the 23-year-old harbours real international ambitions and realised that they would not reliably be achieved had he stayed in the comfortable, but ultimately gameless, surroundings of Cobham and Stamford Bridge.
The attacker’s best Premier League moments came when he was afforded the freedom to express himself by Owen Coyle at Bolton Wanderers. There is a gross misconception that Sturridge was played as a central striker throughout his 12-game spell at the Reebok Stadium. The eight goals he notched in that time effectively kept the Trotters in the division. He did that while working with the likes of Kevin Davies: now he has Suarez.
The way in which he uses his low centre of gravity to unnerve and move defenders is something Liverpool have missed in recent years – that ability to jink away from his man and change the tempo of proceedings is an asset which could prove to be worth every penny of the £12 million shelled out.
Any success will obviously hinge on the relationship with Suarez. Both are inherently greedy individuals – no bad thing when you are a striker hungry for goals – but they will need to forge a partnership within the three quickly to hit the ground running. With the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City to come in the next few weeks, that might be trickier than expected.
Becoming selfless players for the good of the continued progression of the team could very well happen and they have to be interchangeable to fashion the amount of chances required.
There is another big bonus of having one more front man at the club for Rodgers: it gives him the ability to have a Plan B. Sturridge can now be used as a second striker in a 4-4-2 if Liverpool are chasing the game, which is something they have not been able to do. That could be masqueraded as Rodgers’ stubbornness not to change, but will become clear soon as they search for goals late in games.
One thing is for sure: the advantages of having Sturridge outweigh the problems which could arise. Liverpool supporters ought to be happy with their new purchase, signalling a possible happy January ahead.
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