With Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling gone, Daniel Sturridge is the last man standing of Liverpool’s title-challenging stars. He might also be the last man capable of saving Brendan Rodgers’ job.
“It has been difficult and over the last couple of years some of our top players have gone out. For a manager it is very difficult because these players have been outstanding but you need a plan in place to replace that quality.” – January 8, 2015.
“For me, there is not anyone better than Daniel Sturridge. He has got everything in his game if he is playing consistently – goalscoring record, pace, power. As an English striker, there is nobody better.” – February 10, 2015.
“If you look at teams who are successful they will have a consistent striker and what that gives the rest of team is crucial. It’s quite simple, we need more of a scoring threat. We missed it immensely this year and obviously that has affected results.” – April 25, 2015.
“He’s just had a horrible run of injuries this year and when you take that into consideration to what he gives us – because he got 20-plus goals last season – it’s hard to replace that. He’s got everything to be a world-class player. As you know, though, the world-class players play every single week, contributing, that’s the make-up. It’s not just about talent or ability, it’s consistency.” – May 15, 2015.
“He looks a different level of player and when he is fit, available and strong, it can take your game to a new dimension.” – September 18, 2015.
Five separate quotes from five different months, all from Brendan Rodgers on Daniel Sturridge. It was no different after his match winning efforts: “Sturridge showed what we missed for over a year – he makes the difference and helps you compete.” Rodgers’ post-match quotes simply add to the suspicion that Sturridge really was his last excuse. While the pressure has been approaching boiling point at Liverpool, the one constant has been the England striker – or rather lack thereof.
Groin, ankle (x2), thigh, hamstring and hip. An absence of 363 days, and 63 games missed. Sturridge’s injury record since joining Liverpool in January 2013 makes for difficult reading. One only hopes that in rolling his final job-saving dice, Rodgers doesn’t push his striker too far, too soon.
7 – Daniel Sturridge’s last seven Premier League goals have all come at Anfield. Comforts.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 26, 2015
While Christian Benteke’s own injury may have forced Rodgers’ hand, it’s hard not to believe Sturridge would have featured on Saturday afternoon regardless. This is a Liverpool side which had scored four goals in six games and, as Daniel Storey pointed out in midweek, look bereft of anything resembling that excellent team of 2013/14. The looming spectre of a returning Sturridge might be Rodgers’ final hope.
For now, it has worked. The home draw with Norwich was difficult to stomach, as was an inability to beat League Two Carlisle in 120 minutes, but Rodgers’ seat had been pulled up at the bar in Anfield’s last-chance saloon. Forget defeat, even a draw could have been terminal against this Aston Villa side.
After dominating possession and making around three times as many passes as Aston Villa in the first half at Anfield, Liverpool must have worried that this was another of Tim Sherwood’s ‘plans’. James Milner opened the scoring with barely a minute gone but, after a positive opening 10 minutes, the Reds reverted to type. Panicky defending allowed chances for Rudy Gestede and Ashley Westwood, but Liverpool survived to half-time.
From there, it was time for Liverpool fans to reminisce. The hour mark brought a sumptuous one-two between Sturridge and Milner, the ‘two’ represented by a brilliant first-time volley from the former. Gestede capitalised on more poor defending seven minutes later to make it 2-1, but the initial comeback was short-lived. A minute had passed when Sturridge played in Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian returned the favour with an excellent backheel, Sturridge applied the finish and Anfield was reminded what a goalscorer looks like. Within 10 second-half minutes, Sturridge became the club’s joint-top goalscorer this season in his second appearance.
Doubts will linger over the defence as Gestede added a second, but this was less about the performance and more about the victory for Liverpool. Sturridge had at least three more chances to mark his first hat-trick since 2013, but a match-winning double will provide the perfect consolation. No Liverpool striker has had more shots so far this season, even though he still clearly lacks match fitness.
The cloud hanging over Rodgers has not been lifted, but the pressure will ease slightly. Dilemmas in defence remain, issues which may never truly be resolved by this manager. Yet, in Daniel Sturridge, Rodgers may not only have the remedy for Liverpool’s season but the man capable of saving his job. Look after him, Brendan.