STURRIDGE’S TIMELY RETURN
With a wiggle to his left and a wiggle to his right and his arms flailing all over the place, Daniel Sturridge‘s trademark celebration returned to the Kop on Saturday for the first time since March.
Boy, have Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers missed their main man.
[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]
Sturridge struck twice on Saturday — the first, as you can see above, was an absolute peach of a volley with his left foot — to lift the Reds to a somewhat nervy, yet largely deserved 3-2 home win against Aston Villa, as the 26-year-old finally appears to be shaking off his injury plague. But one of the big question’s now that Sturridge is back is: where will he play? Christian Beneteke is currently nursing a slight hamstring issue but when the big Belgian returns, he is expected to lead the line and Sturridge will be shunted out wide. But on Saturday’s viewing, the former Manchester City and Chelsea forward is too important to place out wide. Yes, that worked when Luis Suarez was around, but Sturridge has to take the leading role in this side which could mean Benteke misses out despite his $45 million price tag. With the likes of Danny Ings, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino around to support Sturridge, it could work well.
On Saturday against Villa it took Sturridge a while to get into the game, but you’d expect that after a dreadful 12 month spell which has seen him sit on the the sidelines more often than not. In the second half he combined superbly with James Milner for his first goal, then sublime flicks and build up play between himself, Ings and Coutinho set up his second.
If you take a look at the stat below, it backs up just how lethal Sturridge has been since he arrived at Anfield in 2013. He is crucial to Liverpool’s success.
When the Reds came so close to winning the PL title during the 2013-14 season (sorry to bring it up again, Liverpool fans) Sturridge and Suarez scored 52 goals between them. With Suarez sold to Barcelona and Sturridge playing just 17 times last season and way below 100 percent for most of those outings, Liverpool’s strikers netted just eight times between them as they finished in sixth. There is reason to believe that with Sturridge back, Liverpool’s fans can again realistically dream of achieving a top-four finish.
And it wasn’t just Sturridge who was relieved to score his first goals in over six months on Saturday, his manager, Rodgers, will also be a relieved man. The Liverpool boss has been under mounting pressure as expensive summer signings Firmino and Benteke have struggled to settle in and the Reds lost to Manchester United and West Ham United, plus drew with Norwich City heading into the home game with Villa.
Speculation continues to swirl regarding his future as reports suggest that both Carlo Ancelotti and Jurgen Klopp are being lined up by the Reds as replacements, but talk of Rodgers being fired does seem a little harsh and premature given the fact that he’s been without his leading striker for much of the last 12 months. Rodgers has had to adapt on the fly and at times throw his philosophy as a coach out of the window in order to get results. Sturridge’s return to form and fitness will buy Rodgers some more time and if Liverpool can get him the service he requires, his record suggests he’ll deliver more than enough goals for them to succeed.
As for Rodgers, scrolling through the post-game press conferences after a hectic eight games on Saturday, his “hysteria” comments directed at the media and influential past Liverpool players stood out as the Northern Irishman is fighting for his reputation and position as Liverpool’s manager with everything he’s got.
“There has been a frenzy to get me out of here. There is no question about that,” Rodgers said. “Whether that’s a Liverpool hysteria or big-club hysteria, I am not so sure. The scrutiny here is obviously greater, for me, than any club. But it is a huge club and as a manager you know that and deal with it.
It’s not about proving people wrong. I think I have shown in the early stages of my management – without being arrogant – that with a talented group of players I can compete at the top end of the league. There are very short memories in football. The team was eighth when I got here and we built and produced a team to excite people throughout European football that should have won the league. It didn’t but nobody even expected us to be near the top four.
“I know how to manage top players and manage the group, but when you lose that or those players are not available and you have to piece it together, that takes time. Then all the good work gets forgotten. That’s how it works. It seems the focus has not been on what’s gone on and what we’ve been missing, but more about getting me out of the club. That’s sad. I am the same man who nearly won us the league, but better. If you give me the tools I’ll do the work. I know last season and this, there have been a lot of things going against us, but we’ve always managed to stick together. The players are very much fighting and with players returning we can have a great season.”
CITY STILL THE TEAM TO BEAT?
In the 4-1 demolition to mark their second-straight PL defeat, the Citizens started brightly with Kevin De Bruyne putting them ahead and Raheem Sterling going close. But then, they faded badly. Hart was missed in goal as Willy Cabellero came flapping at a cross which allowed Toby Alderweireld to put Spurs ahead, and the Argentine goalkeeper should have done better with Eric Dier‘s equalizer on half time as he seemed to stop paying attention before the Spurs midfielder rifled home from distance.
[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]
Hart’s omission was explained by Manuel Pellegrini, as the England international had only trained once that week, on Friday, and City didn’t want to risk him. Fair enough. As for the other key omissions, Kompany was initially fit enough for the bench but then pulled out minutes before kick off and sat in the stands, while Silva — City’s creative heartbeat — is still out and Yaya Toure picked up a knock which forced him off early in the second half.
Lengthy injuries to Kompany and Sergio Aguero cost City dear last season, as did Toure not being at his best. Is it happening again? After a rampant start to the campaign which saw City win five from five and everybody lauding Toure and Kompany and practically handing over the title to the Citizens, all of a sudden, they sit in second place and have tricky games coming up in the UEFA Champions League and the PL. If you’re Pellegrini, you can complain and moan about City’s injuries and offside decisions going against you, but with the vast amounts they’ve spent on assembling their squad, they shouldn’t be impacted this badly.
Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi can stand in for Kompany. Samir Nasri, De Bruyne, Jesus Navas and Sterling can fill in for Silva. Fabian Delph (when he’s fit), Fernando and Fernandino can slot in for Toure. They have options, but the over-reliance on City’s big name, experienced players was clear for all to see on Saturday. In truth, City edged the first half but in the second half they unraveled rapidly as Spurs scored twice in a 15 minute period from half time and the game was over. I’m taking nothing away from Spurs but if Kompany and Co. were on the pitch at White Hart Lane on Saturday, it’s hard to see that capitultion taking place.
Pellegrini won’t be hitting the panic button just yet, but the alarm bells may be ringing in the heads of some City fans as a similar tale of injury woe begins to play out this season. Next up for the Citizens are two easy home games against Newcastle United and Bournemouth which they must win, and must-win UCL games against Borussia Monchengladbach and Sevilla came either side of those league games. Then, comes the Manchester derby against the side above them, bitter rivals, Manchester United. For the neutral, things are slotting into place quite nicely ahead of that one. For City, they could do with their luck turning on the pitch and with injuries as their fast start continues to evaporate.
[ WATCH: Sturridge hammers home superb volley ]
For varying reasons that quintet have failed to find the back of the net so far this season, but a palpable sense of relief was present among all five of those players on Saturday as Rooney ended his goal drought at 999 minutes to send United top of the league, Kane ended his drought of 748 minutes and Sanchez smashed in a hat trick to lead Arsenal to the top three. We’ve spoken about Sturridge’s return to form, and the fact that Memphis got on the scoresheet in the PL for the first time will be a huge boost for his confidence as he and Anthony Martial continue to link up well with Rooney. To see United top of the league is quite peculiar. Yes, Louis Van Gaal‘s side is there on merit but they have yet to really string together a faultless 90-minute display. Still, the goals have started to flow for Rooney and Depay which will be music to the ears of LVG as he’s already “very happy” with his side.
[ WATCH: Kane scores sublime goal to end drought ]
Back to the strikers in questions, as Robbie Earle mentions in the video above, we may have heard theses strikers say in recent weeks “I’m just pleased the team is winning and it doesn’t matter who scores the goals” etc. but we all know strikers thrive from scoring and these goals will do all five the world of good as they look to go on a run.
On a separate note: it was a crazy day for goals in general on Saturday as only seven previous matchdays in PL history have witnessed more goals than the 35 scored.
Poor old Bournemouth. Just seven games into their PL journey, Eddie Howe must be bemoaning his luck as a third key player looks destined for the sidelines for the majority of their debut top-flight campaign.
During the first half of their defeat at Stoke City, leading scorer Callum Wilson went down under a rather innocuous looking challenge. Replays showed he twisted his knee awkwardly but the man tipped for a call-up to the full English national team got back to his feet and looked to have run the knock off. That was until, well, he ran. When he tried to accelerate moments later, Wilson collapsed in a heap with nobody else around him.
Bournemouth’s main goal threat is undergoing a scan on Monday to assess the damage to his right knee but it is not looking good. With their two most expensive signings this summer — Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings — both suffering ACL tears already this season, over $22 million worth of investment has already been consigned to the treatment table. The Cherries have impressed plenty of people so far with their free-flowing play and two wins from their opening seven games, but one fears that Wilson’s catastrophic looking injury will be one too many for Howe’s boys to handle.
Just like the title race, it’s too early to write anybody off, but when all is said and done at the end of the season, if Bournemouth is relegated straight back to the Championship, they will likely look at these three serious knee injuries as the pivotal factor in their downfall.
Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here.