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Jack: Sturridge's all around game excelling at Liverpool

Kristian Jack

8/24/2013 3:30:57 PM

DEPENDABLE DANIEL

Daniel Sturridge is only 23-years-old but has already belonged to three of the biggest football clubs in England, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool. With over 100 Premier League appearances to his name, that is a startling fact for someone so young.

Five-and-a-half years since his senior debut, the Englishman, only now, has found a quality all top players seek from their clubs, dependability.

At Manchester City, young Sturridge saw a club transform themselves and suddenly players from around the globe wanted to go there. The more he watched players come through the front door, the more he knew he had to leave out the back one.

At age 19 he was surrounded by people telling him he would be a star and the moment fellow rich club Chelsea came calling, he left. It proved to be a sideways step and he was never going to be given the amount of time in the team an inexperienced professional needed to excel. A brief loan spell at Bolton showcased his scoring abilities in the Premier League, but a return to Chelsea soon after simply showcased his ability to wear a tracksuit next to whichever manager the Blues had that year.

By January, under his fourth manager in as many years, Rafa Benitez, Sturridge was ready to move on and Liverpool, desperate to add some depth scoring to a squad heavily reliant on Luis Suarez, stepped in with a £12 million offer.

At the time the bid was seen as expensive by many, but Liverpool were thrilled to get a player of Sturridge's quality for such a price. You will recall they spent over £70 million on Englishmen Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, before Brendan Rodgers came to the club.

His first appearance for his new club came at Old Trafford from the bench. Liverpool were down 2-0 at the half after a timid tactical approach, but Rodgers brought the forward on at half-time and within 12 minutes he had scored. Liverpool lost 2-1 but a message had been sent to Rodgers, Sturridge had clearly brought a great deal to their attack that had been missing in the opening half.

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The Reds would go on to score 24 goals in their next nine Premier League matches, six of which Sturridge started alongside Suarez. The Uruguayan is a sensational centre forward but is not always easy to play with because of his all-around movement but Sturridge's game fitted in well with the club's talisman.

Rodgers decided to play Suarez a little deeper but, with the flexible Sturridge playing in front of him, had a centre-forward who wouldn't get in his way and had a desire to show tremendous workrate with his movement. Inside a 4-2-3-1, the pair worked very well, helped by the intelligent Philippe Coutinho, who was able to play wide but also had the brain to move inside and make up the numbers in midfield when the team didn't have the ball, a trait that the often maligned Henderson also has.

The signing of Sturridge in January, along with Coutinho, was exactly what Rodgers needed in transitioning from the old direct style under former manager Kenny Dalglish, where wingers were told to get as many crosses in as possible, to a much more technical and cohesive attack based around movement and the key ability to find space.

All of this was on show after Suarez missed the last four matches through suspension as Liverpool dismantled Newcastle 6-0 and Fulham 3-1, both away from home, with Sturridge claiming five goals in the two games.

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Liverpool's season opener last weekend against Stoke City was much the same. The game ended 1-0, after Sturridge became the league's first goal scorer of the new campaign, but the home side created a number of goal scoring opportunities thanks to Sturridge's ability to come deep and get other players involved around him. This causes opponents problems as either central defenders come out of their comfort zone and track Sturridge, leaving space in behind, or defensive midfielders come deeper and eventually ensure the team is far too deep to create much of an attacking threat.

Both these things happened to Stoke and it was not a surprise to see the two players Sturridge passed most to against Stoke were the two central midfielders whose ball retention allows the forward to run into space following the layoff and/or vision can mean a pass is played in to a crucial area created by Sturridge's movement.

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On Saturday at Villa Park, Sturridge scored his 12th goal in his 13th league start for Liverpool and it was a moment that showed all of his qualities. In the buildup he moved over to the left wing with Coutinho going central, before gliding inside with the ball and laying it off to Jose Enrique. At that point, Sturridge went on an excellent run centrally and, because he couldn't be tracked, was in a perfect position, following a great dummy by Coutinho, to receive the ball in the box.

He then showed tremendous ball control, dancing around the defenders before looping the ball over Brad Guzan in the Villa goal. It was an outstanding goal helped by team-mates who didn't touch the ball and one that rightfully got his manager off his seat to applaud.
Rodgers was full of praise this week for his young English striker and didn't stop short at a bold prediction: "I think he can be one of the top scorers in the league this year."

The season is still very young but it is pretty clear Liverpool will not be labeled a 'one man team' when Suarez returns and the Uruguayan's return could do a lot more for the continued development of Sturridge. Stay tuned.