Despite the disappointment of an FA Cup exit at the hands of West Ham, Liverpool were able to welcome Daniel Sturridge back without incident after a two-month injury lay-off.
Sturridge is a supremely effective footballer when fit and more than anything his talent explains the hysteria that surrounding his recent fitness troubles.
Jurgen Klopp’s rebuilding project has been severely hampered by the player’s absence and despite media pressure, the German manager has resisted the temptation to rush the striker back. At times the approach has been accused of being overly cautious, with conspiracy theories suggesting the player was frustrated by a lack of football and ready to leave the club next season.
His incredible goal-scoring record for Liverpool is magnified by Christian Benteke’s lack of success since joining from Aston Villa, though the Belgian could seem a different player if given the chance to work alongside the England international.
Klopp is doubtless aware of Sturridge’s ability to transform players around him with his intelligence and technical ability.
It was only a couple of seasons ago that the former Manchester City player was forming one of English football’s most exciting attacking partnerships alongside Luis Suarez.
Sturridge is not currently in the same class as the Uruguayan – in terms of performance and consistency, at least – but the manner in which he dovetailed with Suarez is a testament to his huge potential.
Speculation from Liverpool fans and analysts about his motivation, mental state and future only serves to put more pressure on the player, a potentially damaging move given his physical fragility. Truthfully, the situation has been well contained by both Sturridge and Klopp, and his appearance against West Ham has tempered negative reaction to the defeat.
Klopp recently spoke of the importance of easing the player back to full fitness, citing consistent training as an important first step for his striker. The usually affable German has been bullish about the situation, betraying his admiration for Sturridge’s abilities.
Next season will mark Klopp’s first real opportunity to work in the transfer market and shape Liverpool’s team in his image. Though the same cannot be said for a number of players currently at the club, Sturridge’s mobility and pace would allow him to thrive in a high-energy system.
The player is still relatively young (26) and is the type of domestic talent that the club simply need to retain as they look to move forward.
He represents a long-term investment rather than a quick-fix solution and patience will continue to be an important factor in his return. It is a luxury that has been sadly lacking from Liverpool owners and managers in recent seasons.
As far as the remainder of this campaign goes, Liverpool’s structural and depth problems extend beyond the striker, and he is one of many issues for the club to address (on and off the pitch).
Nursing back to health
The remainder of the league season will provide ample opportunity for Klopp to nurse his star back but a further run of results could force his hand.
It is a difficult balance to strike, with the club facing a cramped fixture schedule that will provide a serious test of quality and resolve – with the thrashing of Aston Villa a heck of a start.
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