We are used to hearing regular laments about our homegrown footballers and their supposed lack of technique yet the manner of Daniel Sturridge’s winning strike for Liverpool against Aston Villa suggested that there is one English forward whose technical ability is up there with the best of them.
According to his Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, Sturridge has the qualities of a Brazilian and the potential to become a “massive asset” for his country as well as his club, and the evidence of his goal at Villa Park was certainly compelling.
On an afternoon where Liverpool had only two attempts on target, Sturridge made the difference, showing superb footwork to drag the ball past Antonio Luna and round goalkeeper Brad Guzan before netting his second match-winner of the season, and 15th goal in 20 Liverpool appearances since his January arrival from Chelsea.
“You’d look at him and people would think he’d maybe be a Brazilian striker with his body physique and his pace and power,” said Rodgers. “England are fortunate to have him because he’s a big, big talent. But he knows he needs to be consistent, he needs to get himself the games and the goals. I have got no doubt that he will be a massive asset for England.
“It’s still very early, but there is absolutely no question he’s potentially the top English striker. He’s got all the tools.”
Sturridge has six England caps and one goal, but only one start to his name – against the Republic of Ireland in May – yet what he has right now is something so far denied him in his career: the opportunity to play an important role, week in, week out. Saturday was his ninth straight league start for Liverpool – the best sequence of his career, which is hardly ideal when you consider that he turns 24 next Sunday when Liverpool host Manchester United.
“He’s always had the ability but it’s [been] very difficult,” Rodgers added. “He was at a great club at Manchester City and probably when he was about to get his chance, having come through the system there, all the money came into the club. He made the move to Chelsea thinking maybe he was going to get more opportunities but had Didier Drogba and [other] senior players in front of him, so he never really got the chance. When he did play it was probably more in a wide area.”
An analysis of Sturridge’s career shows that when given starts, he will score goals. After leaving Manchester City for Chelsea aged 19 he made just two league starts in his first two campaigns. Yet in the second of those seasons, he hit eight goals in 11 starts on loan at Bolton. Given more of a chance at Chelsea in 2011/12 he responded with 11 goals in 28 league starts. At Anfield, the goals have flowed – 12 in 13 league starts.
Rodgers believes Sturridge’s attitude is no problem either; he admires his “lovely footballing arrogance” and suggests here is a player who simply needed a “platform”. He said: “He’s not used to playing. But we just said to him, ‘You need to throw the dice, get out on the training field every day, work your socks off and everything else will take care of itself.’ He’s thrived on the confidence of his team-mates and the people around the club.”
Happily for Rodgers, he is not the only one thriving as at the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is fast justifying the manager’s decision to offload Pepe Reina this summer. The Belgian’s excellent late, left-hand save from Christian Benteke denied Villa reward for a spirited second-half display and followed on from his 89th-minute penalty stop against Stoke on the opening weekend.
“A good keeper will save you up to 10 points a season [so] he’s up four points already in the first two games,” said Rodgers.