When Fenway Sports Group assumed ownership of Liverpool in October 2010, they came to assess a playing squad that had finished seventh the season prior, below Aston Villa. To their own admission, they saw Steven Gerrard and not much else.
“You know, I think we underestimated how poor the playing quality of the squad was,” said former FSG chief Edward Weiss in March 2016. “While we had a few top players like Steven Gerrard, other players like Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina were probably beyond their primes.”
The assessment of two Spaniards whose performances are still fondly remembered at Anfield is not the important part here. The salient point is that Torres, a player whose career sky-rocketed before crashing back down to earth through injuries, was 26 at the time.
Daniel Sturridge turns 27 in September, a matter of weeks after the start of the next season. Quite where he will be playing by then, it is impossible to say. But on Sunday he provided yet another reminder that this is not necessarily a striker past his prime; this is an individual with a point to prove and the means to do so.
“For me, there was not a second of doubt about Daniel Sturridge,” said Jurgen Klopp in midweek. It feels as though the German has issued that same missive once every few months since being appointed Liverpool manager in October 2015. Sturridge has started just 26 games in 18 months under the German, only 13 of which have come in the Premier League.
That number might be unlucky for some, but for Sturridge, that 13th start provided him with a platform to remind the world of his talents. Liverpool were excellent against West Ham at the London Stadium, but Sturridge was the star.
Do not underestimate just how an impressive victory this was. Arsenal’s customary late-season run meant that any mistake would be capitalised upon. Liverpool entered this game in fourth, just one point above the Gunners, having stuttered in a home draw against Southampton.
The first half was pulsating, but it was Sturridge who found the breakthrough. Philippe Coutinho made the crucial – and excellent – pass, but West Ham’s defence ought to be credited with the assist. James Collins burst out of his confines like an excitable and particularly clumsy horse, while Jose Fonte provided a glimpse as to why Slaven Bilic substituted him with only a few minutes of the second half gone. Sturridge’s movement was wonderful, Coutinho’s pass perfect, and the striker’s confidence and skill was uncontainable as he bamboozled Adrian before slotting home.
West Ham had their chances. They started and ended the half well at a London Stadium still buoyant from victory over Tottenham, but record signing Andre Ayew managed to pop those bubbles of energy in the final minutes of the first half. A corner found him unmarked, two yards out. He hit the post. Twice.
It was a wake-up call for Liverpool, and they duly responded by bursting out of bed, taking a cold shower and doing twenty laps. Adrian made three saves in the opening two minutes of the half, and the Reds were 3-0 ahead by the hour mark. Coutinho was a joy to behold.
Sturridge scored the opener, but it was his role in the fourth that proved that he could yet have a future at Klopp’s Liverpool. He embarrassed Aaron Cresswell down the left before pulling it back into the area. Divock Origi eventually added the finishing touch as his fellow forward, famed only for his finishing skills, turned creator. This was an individual player proving that he could yet prosper in a complete team performance.
Sturridge departed to a standing ovation from the travelling Liverpool fans. He had four shots, scored one goal, created two chances and completed an impressive 88.9% of his passes. The delightful Coutinho was named Man of the Match, but this was not his first Premier League start since January 2. Sturridge was tasked with hitting the ground running, and he barely stopped sprinting all afternoon.
In Klopp’s ideal world, Sturridge will stay at Liverpool this summer and accept that he will not start every game. It remains to be seen whether he can avoid injuries, attain consistency and perform against a defence less welcoming than this.
The onus is on the player to prove that he is reliable enough for the manager to either build around him or slot him seamlessly into the existing structure. But in 86 minutes on Sunday, Sturridge strengthened his negotiating position immeasurably. If he does choose to leave Anfield for pastures new, he will not be short of suitors.