Liverpool v Maribor: Daniel Sturridge needs to capitalise on Huddersfield goal and seize chance to establish himself in Klopp's side
Strike against Huddersfield was his 100th career goal. But at 28 years old, the England striker's career is one stymied by injury and lack of game time
Daniel Sturridge scored the 100th goal of his club career on Saturday.
Recalled to Liverpool’s starting line-up, he grabbed the opener in the 3-0 win at home to Huddersfield Town. It ended a two-month drought. It sealed a landmark, too.
Finally, a forward of immense talent had brought up his ton. That it took Sturridge until almost two months past his 28th birthday emphasised a career regrettably restricted.
Injuries have hampered him, limiting Liverpool’s most naturally talented striker to a support role at best. Sturridge starred in that almost-standout 2013/14 season, scoring 21 Premier League goals as the Merseyside club came within two points of a first top-flight title in 24 years. Famously, Steven Gerrard slipped and Liverpool slumped. Yet ultimately that nadir represented Sturridge’s zenith.
Since, a succession of problems has stunted his progress, stymying his output. It means that almost five years from his £12 million (Dh58.2m) transfer from Chelsea, Sturridge is set for his first start in the Uefa Champions League for Liverpool. He has not scored in the competition in seven years.
On Wednesday, Liverpool host Slovenian champions Maribor. They met two weeks ago, when the five-time European champions ran riot at the Stadion Ljudski vrt, winning 7-0. It was the biggest away victory by an English team in tournament history.
Even with scoresheet bloated, Sturridge did not register. Introduced as a second-half substitute, just as he had been for the recent Champions League draws with Sevilla and Spartak Moscow, he assisted Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Liverpool’s sixth.
Climbing to five points from three matches, Jurgen Klopp’s side clambered to the top of Group E. They are level on points with Spartak, but thanks to the Maribor mauling, boast a superior goal difference. Another convincing victory in the return match would confirm a major move towards the knockout stages.
Sturridge will see it as an opportunity to stake his claim. This time, injuries appear certain to benefit him. For Maribor, Liverpool are without Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane and Adam Lallana, three attackers sidelined for varying lengths of time.
It is why Sturridge should be granted a first Champions League start since March 2012. Then, a precocious English forward was part of an experienced Chelsea side that overcame Napoli at Stamford Bridge in extra time of their last-16 encounter. Triumphing 5-4 on aggregate, they had booked their place in the quarter-finals. They went on to lift the trophy.
More than five years on, Sturridge is eager to propel himself back into Klopp’s reckoning for regular game-time. Available since mid-August, he has featured in eight matches, contributing to 414 minutes. Preferred at the tip of the German manager's fluid frontline, Roberto Firmino has played almost three times that this season.
Undoubtedly, Sturridge needs a sustained run in the side. When fit, he remains an expert finisher, capable of moments of individual brilliance. Technically proficient, in theory he fits well with the equally able Coutinho, Mane and Firmino.
In 130 appearances for Liverpool, Sturridge has scored a hugely respectable 62 goals. His most recent provided a milestone moment. Speaking earlier this week, in the days after the Huddersfield win, he referenced the Champions League.
“You want to be playing at this level," Sturridge said. "I am ready for when the opportunity comes.”
With opportunity knocking again against Maribor, he needs to seize it.
Updated: October 31, 2017 02:50 PM