Stur­ridge the talk­ing point again – but for right rea­sons

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE - By Chris Bas­combe

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

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