Against Manchester United on Monday, Daniel Sturridge was poor in attack and offered the side little help keeping or regaining the ball. Space may have been difficult to find against a resolute and disciplined visiting defence, but the 27-year-old was considerably off the pace. He was substituted by Jürgen Klopp on the hour mark for Adam Lallana—a change that greatly improved Liverpool’s attacking play.
Going back to Liverpool's 2-1 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, Sturridge looked remarkably drained in the second half. A bright first half full of movement and flair gave way to a desperately muted display brought on by injury. It wasn't. Klopp was forced into making a change on 57 minutes—a similar time to Monday's substitution.
Both games were separated by a month, but Sturridge usually provides a timely reminder of his considerable talents when grand occasions demand goalscoring interventions. Sturridge is struggling for form even though he's fit and available to play, a situation that he's not faced in his Liverpool career. Fortunately, Klopp is backing his striker.
“It is a very useful moment in his career,” Klopp said about his star striker. “A big name. [Robert] Lewandowski. There were times when he didn’t score. Gerd Müller. There were games he didn’t score. I still can’t believe it. You look back on his career and he scored 600 times but there were moments when he didn’t score.
“This moment is a good moment for Dan. It is not easy. Most of his time in his life, football has been so easy because he is so skilled. The right moment, easy goal, simple goal. Every player struggles with this or this. Little problem here, little problem there. We had a game against Manchester United and, yes, it was not easy for him. We didn’t play well, he didn’t play with 100 per cent confidence.
“Make a shooting exercise and there are still tears in your eyes when you see it and you are like ‘f---ing hell. That is unbelievable’, but then you see the games. There are no easy one, two, three situations where he could have scored.”
Liverpool look better with Roberto Firmino playing up front in a three with Philippe Coutinho on the left and Sadio Mané on the right. Adam Lallana—the offensive link as part of a midfield trio—combines wonderfully with the front three. It’s a long season, but right now, Daniel Sturridge shouldnt start for Liverpool. There will be a time when he's needed—perhaps against Tottenham Hotspur in the EFL Cup—in a season that will still require rotation even without European football.
What Klopp is doing, though, is reassuring a high-profile and talented member of his senior squad that there is a place for him. Liverpool may be developing as a team that might not need Sturridge in the coming years, but squad depth where real quality can be called upon shouldn't be a concern. Klopp made a point of highlighting Sturridge’s selfless work and movement in creating space for Firmino to score against Leicester, calling it ‘‘a sign of development’’ for his striker.
Liverpool are also showing signs of development this season beyond performances on the pitch. The likes of Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge are waiting for opportunities for a run in the side that only injuries can provide with so many players putting in noteworthy performances. Danny Ings is lighting up the under-23s with barely a chance to even make the bench with the seniors. Divock Origi must bide his time as first or second attacking reserve depending on the situation.
Daniel Sturridge is paid too much to be a squad player, even if he will surely score goals when he does get his chances this season. Still, this could be the start of phasing Sturridge out or to bringing in a more durable, younger option. Or it may just be a period where a top striker temporarily loses form that he will soon regain. Regardless, Klopp is keeping the positivity around the squad and should see the benefit of such an approach as the season progresses.