Our friends at WhoScored crunched the numbers and the conclusion is that Liverpool win a whole lot of games with Daniel Sturridge and not so many without…
“Of course there’s a lot of hysteria and I think that continues. I’m pretty confident that there’s obviously a group of people who don’t want me here as the manager,” Brendan Rodgers told reporters in the aftermath of Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Aston Villa.
Rather than heap praise on the two exceptionally well-taken goals by Daniel Sturridge – enough to secure him a WhoScored.com rating of 8.59 – that granted Liverpool their first win in seven matches, Rodgers instead chose to go on the attack, keen to paint the picture of a committee trying to hound him out through the back door at Anfield as they usher in Jurgen Klopp through the front.
The Liverpool manager has already come to terms with the challenge he faces to keep his job. Whether rightly or wrongly, as soon as the whispers of Carlo Ancelotti and Klopp became significantly louder, it became clear that Rodgers is working on borrowed time.
But, as the Northern Irishman has been right to point out, it was only 16 months ago that he was named LMA Manager of the Year as Liverpool came within one slip and two points of their first league title in 25 years. With that, expectations have risen and Rodgers is now paying the ultimate price for his huge over-achievement.
The Liverpool board may not be demanding a title challenge from the current squad, but having come so close, Rodgers will naturally only ever be compared to the feats of that campaign. Handicapped by a flawed transfer committee and the repeated disappointment of losing his best players, Rodgers has been forced to improvise ever since he took over from Kenny Dalglish in June 2012.
However, what cannot be brushed under the carpet are the results on the pitch and they make for grim reading. Rodgers’ men have recorded just five wins in their last 16 league matches, with all of those coming against sides occupying spots in the bottom four.
It doesn’t get much easier for Rodgers, either. The Liverpool boss must first navigate past a tricky Europa League tie at home to Swiss side FC Sion on Thursday before their Merseyside rivals lie in wait on Sunday. You get the sense that anything other than a win over Everton will heap further pressure on Rodgers, and even that may not be enough with rumours of Klopp’s arrival circling around Anfield.
Liverpool will make the short trip to Goodison Park without Christian Benteke, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino, having only won one of their last six meetings with their fierce rivals. There hasn’t been much cause for optimism at Anfield in recent months, and with Rodgers firmly among the favourites to become the first manager to lose his job in the Premier League this season, Everton will rightly be considered favourites ahead of the 225th instalment of the Merseyside derby this weekend.
However, while Rodgers has thrown some conspiracy theories into the ring, there is still a chance – albeit a small one – that he can turn this all around and put Liverpool back on track. All of this, however, is dependent on Sturridge’s fitness. Matthew Stead said as much on Saturday.
The England international wasn’t at his sharpest against Villa, which is understandable considering it was just his second league game since April, but he still chipped in with two crucial goals to seal a vital three points for his manager.
In doing so, he has already become Liverpool’s joint top-scorer in the league this season (2). Indeed, only Manchester United’s Anthony Martial (68.3mins) is requiring fewer minutes per goal than Sturridge (76mins) of those to have scored at least two goals in the Premier League thus far.
It was his first strike at Anfield that sparked thousands of gifs on Twitter, but it was his second finish that illustrated the kind of clinical finishing that Rodgers’ front line has been desperately crying out for.
While Rodgers would have been jubilant to have his star striker back, it also provided a sorry reminder to what could have been over the last year had Sturridge been available.
The 26-year-old has scored a formidable 37 goals in 57 matches for the Reds since joining from Chelsea in January 2013, which is a goal-per-game record that ranks him above any Liverpool striker in the Premier League era (0.65 per match).
However, persistent injuries means Rodgers has only been able to call upon Sturridge’s services from the start on nine occasions in the league since Suarez’s departure over a year ago and the figures make for stark reading, albeit from a small sample size.
With Sturridge in the starting XI, Liverpool have won 66.7% of their league games, compared to just 41.17% from the 36 games they have played without him. Sturridge’s impact on the team is also evident when you consider Liverpool average 1.89 goals-per-game with him in the starting XI, compared to just 1.17 when he is unavailable.
If you widen the sample size to include his first season at the club, then Liverpool have only lost four league games Sturridge has started and boast a staggering win percentage of 71.4%. They also average more than two goals per game (2.43). It’s quite simple to see the effect Sturridge has when he’s available for selection.
The return of Sturridge at the weekend also seemed to get the best out of Philippe Coutinho, who laid on the assist for the striker’s second goal. Sturridge’s natural ability to stretch defences is something that provides Coutinho the space and time to flourish, which has proven a problem at times with Christian Benteke leading the line.
Rodgers has further cause for belief this weekend as Sturridge will line up against one of his more favoured opponents. In his career he has only scored more league goals against Newcastle (6) than he has managed against Everton (5).
Sturridge’s return may prove too late in the day to save Rodgers’ skin at Anfield, but if there is one hope the 42-year-old has left to grasp onto, then it’s on the shoulders of Liverpool’s mercurial Englishman.
All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings. You can follow all the scores, statistics, live player and team ratings with their new free-to-download app.