The prolific Daniel Sturridge or the blossoming young talent of Divock Origi? A cultured English left foot or Belgian gengenpressing made flesh? With the start of the Premier League season less than two weeks away, the choice between the two strikers is nowhere near as clear cut for manager Jurgen Klopp as it was as recently as six months ago.
With Ings, Firmino and (hopefully not for much longer) Benteke all pegged for strictly substitute/situational roles at the head of the spear, the first choice to lead the line in this vital campaign has split fans and is surely taking up a lot of Klopp’s head space.
Both players have that intangible ability to turn the game through an individual moment of brilliance: Sturridge, we’ve seen do so in a record-setting manner in his time at the club, while Origi is just starting to come good on the potential showed after bursting on the scene during the 2014 World Cup.
With numerous injuries blighting his career, it is easy to forget how frightening Sturridge has been for Liverpool, boasting a goal scoring record trailing only Fernando Torres and ahead of even Luis Suarez in how quickly he has reached 50 goals for the club.
More frightening therefore was the cavalier attitude with which much of the fanbase entertained rumors of a transfer to PSG in the 2015-16 winter window. As a talented young English player, he has been in the spotlight long enough to be branded as arrogant, lazy and apathetic for the mistakes of his youth and for not being exactly like arguably the world’s best striker in Suarez.
Origi on the other hand has brought a different flavor to the attack after forcing himself into the picture in the latter half of last season. A delightful Capital One Cup hat trick against Southampton served as a coming out party after what was initially a stuttering start to his time at Anfield.
Despite continued impressive performances, the young Belgian was still definitively behind Sturridge in the pecking order until the watershed moment when he was controversially selected in the first leg against Borussia Dortmund, with the manager’s faith rewarded with a vital goal.
And now, after a quiet Euro tournament with Belgium, Origi has picked up where he left off with a goal-scoring preseason return against AC Milan, reviving the debate over which No. 9 should start the season.
While Klopp certainly is the last one for sentiment, one has to assume that the shirt is Sturridge’s to lose. Klopp has shown a willingness to stick with the hot hand when it comes to the two competing strikers. Besides obviously goals, one would think that a number of factors will come into play:
1) How well Sturridge gels with his fellow attackers. Especially with the addition of the pacy Sadio Mané making runs centrally and out wide.
2) Sturridge’s health. With Roy Hodgson and his ham-fisted approach to training (finally) out of the picture for the English national team, the mercurial striker has a much better chance of maintaining his highly-tailored training regimen and not falling apart every time he leaves on international duty.
3) Sturridge’s work rate. The striker’s desire off the ball has been questioned in the past, especially when compared to some of his speed demon partners such as Suarez and now Origi. On the other hand, dedicated hard pressing is a big feature of the young Belgian’s game, and one would think that Sturridge’s ability to properly enact Klopp’s defensive plans vis-à-vis Origi will be a major factor in selection.
4) Origi’s continued development. The big striker has started to show that he can finish with the best of them. Sustained development in this and other regards will need to be both nurtured and progressive for the manager to continue to believe in him.
Interestingly, we also haven’t yet seen Klopp extensively experiment with the sort of two-striker formation that Brendan Rodgers deployed to devastating effect in 2013/14. The wealth of attacking midfield talent along with the lack of an out-and-out defensive midfielder in the squad makes such a setup a harder choice to make, but it would be interesting to see if the big German looks to such an arrangement in the event that the selection process becomes particularly fraught.