Sturridge the talking point again – but for right reasons
If Jürgen Klopp was evaluating how Daniel Sturridge would respond to his omission in midweek, he left Anfield reassured. Mood assessors and body-language experts have been convening on Merseyside to study the Liverpool striker, barely a week passing without his manager being quizzed on his striker’s status, temperament, fitness and form.
On days like this, Klopp understands the fixation with the enigmatic but supremely talented centre-forward. Sturridge was outstanding as Liverpool ensured there was no expensive compromise in domestic policy now trophy priorities have shifted to Europe.
The England striker scored, he linked the play and – perhaps most thrillingly for the Liverpool coach – his work-rate was exceptional as he assumed senior status in a vastly changed line-up. Liverpool shrugged off an abject Stoke with an especially dominant second-half display, enabling Sturridge to exhibit his full repertoire.
How comforting it is for Klopp to prepare for Borussia Dortmund’s arrival with so many dilemmas across his line-up. Divock Origi, preferred to Sturridge in midweek, also came off the bench to score twice. The pair worked so well in tandem it may not be a case of one or the other on Thursday, but you can understand why the manager might get tetchy when asked about who will be left out when it is the pleasure of having a genuine choice that matters most.
Klopp even sought to publicly volunteer his appreciation of the 26-year-old’s effort. Classic manmanagement. “Usually, you ask me about Sturridge but I want to speak about him this time,” he said.
“He worked really hard and it was a brilliant goal. He does not have to defend like Lucas Leiva, but he has to defend smart, closing spaces, so I am really happy with his performance.”
Such acknowledgement reflected Sturridge thriving with the responsibility in a team selection that had both Thursday and, one suspects, a recent loss against Southampton in mind.
When Klopp kept the same lineup following the Europa League win over Manchester United two weeks ago, his players were running on empty. It was essential limbs were preserved for his former club in midweek, although initially it seemed the passions of a subdued crowd were also being saved. That would change in the second half.
Klopp made seven changes from the side who drew at Signal Iduna Park, although the inclusion of Sturridge and Roberto Firmino ensured this was hardly a weak lineup. Winger Sheyi Ojo made his first Premier League start, as did midfielder Kevin Stewart, who would most likely have featured more but for injury following impressive FA Cup appearances. The youngsters performed well.
Although teenager Ojo started nervously and would last only 45 minutes, he sparkled in the buildup to Sturridge’s 32nd-minute headed goal. He tricked Phil Bardsley before clipping a cross on to the striker’s forehead six yards out, restoring an advantage Liverpool had surrendered when their vulnerabilities from set-pieces were exposed again.
Xherdan Shaqiri clipped in a freekick and Bojan Krkic was free to glance a 22nd-minute header past Simon Mignolet. There was similar indecision each time Stoke had a free-kick and corner in the first half, but the visitors did not bother to break sweat after half-time.
Alberto Moreno had struck Liverpool ahead from 25 yards after only eight minutes, the generous appraisal being goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard was undone by a ball that caught in the wind. Liverpool began the second half just as well, Origi benefiting from more indecision from Haugaard to convert James Milner’s 50th-minute cross. The inevitable fourth goal arrived when Origi cut in from the left to swerve past Haugaard. Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, admitted his team were in “damage limitation” mode from then on. A verbal altercation between Hughes and full-back Erik Pieters summed up Stoke’s toils, the Dutchman duly substituted without even an icy glare from his manager. “Those things happen. We needed to be a bit more solid and I felt I needed to make a change, which I did,” said Hughes.
Klopp had no such concerns after the most emphatic home league win since he took over. The Premier League table does not make pleasant reading, but his side have been playing well for several weeks.
Main man: Daniel Sturridge celebrates the goal that capped a fine performance