Liverpool: What More Does Sturridge Have To Do To Be 'World Class'?
If I were to say to you that one of Liverpool’s strikers has scored in all but four games for the club this season and then asked you to guess who that is, you could be forgiven for instantly replying “Luis Suarez.”
The vexatious Uruguayan has been in absolutely phenomenal form, and that he leads the Premier League top scorer charts despite giving everyone else a six game head start, currently averaging over a goal per game, is simply mind-blowing. Suarez has matured as both a player and a person, and that he has continued to improve since Brendan Rodgers became Liverpool boss is a truly frightening prospect for not only the rest of the league, but the rest of the world heading in to this summer’s World Cup - and hopefully the rest of the clubs in the Champions League next season, too.
But no, amazingly, Suarez has failed to find the net in 11 of Liverpool’s games this season, and is going through something of a drought – by his incredibly high standards, anyway - with only one goal in his last six games. An incredible 10 goal haul in December boosted his tally, which currently stands at 23 goals in 24 appearances (23 starts) for the season. However, it’s his strike partner, Daniel Sturridge, whose 19 goals in 21 appearances (19 starts) is equally impressive, perhaps more so when you consider how consistently he has been getting on the scoresheet. Just as the £23m Liverpool paid for Suarez is a relative bargain, they paid nearly half of that for Sturridge (and, if you’re a masochist like me, that’s around the total fee paid for Andy Carroll).
This is in no way meant to diminish Suarez’s achievements over the past 18 months; it’s been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to watch him play, and his scintillating form has led to him rightly being mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. But Sturridge’s exploits are certainly deserving of more acclaim than he has been afforded. It is baffling that Fleet Street’s finest are not constantly fawning over him as he’s England’s best chance to success at this year’s World Cup. Instead, they seem more intent on using every possible opportunity to speculate whether he’s still the temperamental teenager he was billed as whilst at Manchester City. It’s a tag Sturridge is struggling to shake, but one that could not be further from the truth.
He’s flourished since joining Liverpool, and with every passing game makes me look like more and more of a clueless f***wit. I was churlish enough to believe the stories about him being difficult to work with and I didn’t want the club to sign him; I thought he’d be another Ryan Babel! Had I bothered to pay attention it would have been apparent that he’s actually incredibly humble and affable, as shown in a recent interview he did with The Anfield Wrap (you can listen to it here). He admitted he’s settled at Liverpool in a way he never quite was at Chelsea, and you can see that in the way he plays the game with such verve and swagger; he simply exudes confidence.
His Liverpool career stats to date read 37 appearances (32 starts), 30 goals; a goalscoring record that is up there with the best players in world football. He returned - ahead of schedule - from a serious ankle injury that kept him side-lined for nearly two months and, whilst it may take most players a few games to get up to speed, Sturridge has scored eight goals in seven games, managing to find the net in every game since. There are only three games this season in which both Suarez and Sturridge have failed to score, and, unsurprisingly, Liverpool lost all three: 1-0 away to Manchester United; 1-0 at home to Southampton; and 2-0 away to Arsenal.
It isn’t just the frequency of the goals that is impressive, but, as is the case with Suarez, it’s the quality of them, too. Goals from inside the box and out, from pile-drivers to cheeky lobs, incredible solo goals to tap-ins, he’s got it all. And his all-round game is genuinely impressive; it’s not just his finishing that catches the eye. His touch, his movement, his vision, his passing are all incredible, and that is all complemented by a tireless work-rate; he and Suarez must be an absolute nightmare for opposition defenders. The only part of his game that could do with improving is his heading, and his attitude and determination mean it’s only a matter of time before that happens.
His partnership with Suarez is what Liverpool fans envisioned Suarez would have with Fernando Torres when the Uruguayan first joined the club, but instead Torres decided to join Chelsea. In some Freaky Friday-esque role-reversal, Torres is now picking splinters out of his a**e on the bench at Stamford Bridge whilst Sturridge terrorises opposition defences at Anfield with his deadly blend of searing pace, tricky feet and clinical finishing. With the effervescent Raheem Sterling becoming a mainstay in the side, too, the talented trio are equally as capable of destroying you on the break as they are slicing through you with clever, intricate play if you sit deep.
To put his goalscoring exploits in to perspective, across Europe’s top five leagues, only eight players have equalled or bettered Sturridge’s return so far this season: Cristiano Ronaldo (34 in 32), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (31 in 32), Sergio Aguero (26 in 25), Diego Costa (25 in 34), Alvaro Negredo (23 in 35), Lionel Messi (22 in 25), Edison Cavani (19 in 29) and, of course, Luis Suarez (23 in 24). Messi and Aguero would likely be nearer the top of that list had they not been plagued by injuries this season, but not only have all of those players – bar Suarez - had the benefit of featuring in the Champions League, giving them more games to score in, the majority of them – again, bar Suarez - are the first choice penalty takers for their respective clubs.
So, at what point do we label him world-class? I suppose the term itself is open to interpretation; is it reserved for the best player in each position? The top three? Five? Ten? In England we do have a tendency to place unnecessary pressure on homegrown players from a young age; we expect these precocious phenomenons to be the finished article in their early twenties, forgetting that they often still have to mature both as players and people. Sometimes the fame and hype goes to their head and they lose focus, just as people claimed was the case with Sturridge. But now he’s making everyone sit up and take notice with his play on the pitch. And it’s only a matter of time before even his most ardent of critics start doing the wriggly arm dance, too.