Jurgen Klopp revelled in Daniel Sturridge’s return to fitness and form after the striker inspired Liverpool into the Capital One Cup semi-finals.
Sturridge started his first match since Klopp’s appointment as manager almost two months ago and demonstrated the masterful finishing ability that Klopp and predecessor Brendan Rodgers so regularly went without in scoring Liverpool’s first two goals in their exceptional 6-1 defeat of Southampton.
Wednesday evening’s victory secured their place in the competition’s final four – they are to face Stoke over two legs in January while Manchester City and Everton compete in the other semi-final – and also gave Sturridge his first goals since September 26, when he scored twice against Aston Villa.
Given much of Klopp’s considerable reputation was built upon his transformation of Robert Lewandowski into a world-class goalscorer at Borussia Dortmund, it says much that the German was so convinced by Sturridge’s performance, particularly so soon after suggesting the striker needed to “identify what is serious pain and what is only pain” and on an evening where Divock Origi also scored a hat-trick.
A fully-fit Sturridge could yet possess the potential to make the crucial difference in reaching the Premier League’s top four, even at a club where Origi, Christian Benteke, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino are among the alternative attacking options.
Despite watching his team improve significantly in the striker’s absence before Wednesday, Klopp revealed Sturridge’s performance made him understand why he was the subject of such regular attention and debate.
“I said to Sturridge after the game ‘now I know what everybody is talking about so thank you’,” said Klopp of the striker who, owing to injury, has scarcely featured since the conclusion of the 2013/14 season in which his 24 goals almost inspired Liverpool to the league title.
“Of course I knew all about his quality, this was not a problem, but I had not seen it live in a stadium in such an important game.
“How do I know if he can be better than a couple of seasons ago? I don’t know. You have known him longer than me.
“The problem with Daniel was we didn’t know how long he could play. He did not have the perfect pre-season. It was a good decision (to select him), I have to say.”
In progressing to the semi-finals against Stoke, Liverpool avoided the potentially more difficult draws against Everton or Manchester City, but Klopp pointed to his team’s recent 4-1 win at City as proof they need not be concerned about facing them, and insisted that Stoke remain a significant challenge.
“I have absolutely no problems with a match against Everton,” he said. “As you could see we have no problem with matches against Manchester City, but we got Stoke.
“I’ve had a few finals in my life and I know there was never an easy one. Stoke will want this final, for sure.”
The 6-1 defeat represented Southampton’s worst at home for 56 years, since a 6-0 loss to Brentford in March 1959, and while criticising his team for making it “too easy” for Liverpool, their manager, Ronald Koeman, accepted responsibility for the attacking changes which he said ultimately increased their deficit.
“(It was) great play of Liverpool,” he said. “They played a fantastic game. Very complete, defensively strong, good movement, and they killed the game with high quality, but (it was) too easy in my opinion.
“The second half is my responsibility. I took the decision to play three at the back, and the first 20 minutes after half-time it was a little bit better, but we didn’t score, and the last 20 minutes, there were too big spaces, too big gaps.”