When James Milner said he wasn’t happy about moving to left back but that he would buckle down and do what was best for the team, most nodded along with the veteran midfielder. Some even commended Milner on his willingness to put his own preferences to one side because the manager had asked him to, saying it showed his professionalism.
When Daniel Sturridge said he wasn’t happy moving to the wing but would buckle down and do his best, far too many painted it as an act that showed a lack of professionalism. The racist undertones displayed in peoples’ reactions was sadly predictable, but for the manager making the decisions, the only concern is if the moves get the desired results.
“First of all, you have to think a little bit about why do you ask things like this,” was Jürgen Klopp’s response at his pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s match against Tottenham when pressed about reports that Sturridge was frustrated by being played wide. “The first thing is, I don’t want to play Daniel as a wide player, but he can start there.”
As Klopp outlined it, Sturridge’s role against Burnley and Burton Albion wasn’t on the wing—for a start, given the nature of the two games, he wasn’t tasked with defensive duties. He also wasn’t asked to provide width in the attacking third—that was the job of the fullback both against defensive Burnley and overmatched Burton Albion.
“He can start there; he can play there,” said Klopp. “But in the decisive moments, he needs to be involved in the finishing situations. Both goals he scored inside the box, so he was not on the wing. It’s flexible football. You need to find a formation where players can start. Both games, Burnley and Burton, were games where we didn’t need a winger.
“We didn’t need an offensive winger in these positions—it should be filled by the fullbacks or players from other positions—and you have your players who are really good in finishing situations in and around the box. That’s how it works. It’s not a fixed position where you stay outside and wait until you have the ball, especially in Daniel’s case.”
All of which is to say that Sturridge isn’t likely to start wide against Spurs, when Liverpool’s wing players will be asked to support the fullbacks at both ends of the pitch. But against defensive sides, or late on with Liverpool needing a goal, in those sorts of situations Daniel Sturridge playing wide—but not being asked to stay wide—is likely to continue.
“When we have talks, there’s no issue,” Klopp added. “In the end you need enough players in the box for finishing. When he plays as a nine and stays there, it makes no sense. Daniel is a very smart player at finding spaces and hiding himself in positions he’s not easy to defend, and often that is from a wide position. It’s only a starting position.”