Daniel Sturridge achieves Champions League redemption with starring role in Liverpool’s fluid front three

Sturridge’s body had failed him on so many occasions that maybe even he, someone so outwardly confident, would have inwardly questioned whether it was possible for nights like these again

Simon Hughes
Tuesday 18 September 2018 22:33 BST
Jurgen Klopp says Daniel Sturridge is in 'the best shape since I've known him' after Liverpool's PSG win

Maybe redemption is too dramatic a word even in these most intense circumstances, though perhaps it is one that Daniel Sturridge – a man of faith – would prefer to use.

Sturridge, after all, had done nothing particularly wrong, though Liverpool had in appearing to squander a two-goal advantage but only after his substitution for Roberto Firmino, the person whose shot would slide across the grass in injury time and improbably secure Liverpool’s victory.

Sturridge’s body, indeed, had failed him on so many occasions that maybe even he, someone so outwardly confident, would have inwardly questioned whether it was possible for nights like these to be a feature in his life again.

The word again is significant too. It is worth emphasising this was Sturridge’s first start for Liverpool in a Champions League fixture, which is quite something when you think he is now into his seventh season at the club.

His goalscoring record in Europe’s elite competition throughout this period of toil: one in the 90th minute against Maribor nearly 11 months ago when it was already 2-0. Before West Ham came to Anfield on the opening day, it had been his last in any kind of competitive game, whether that be for Liverpool or West Brom where he struggled for games, playing only six times.

Sturridge would set Liverpool up for their remarkable victory here by scoring the game’s opener, a lunging header from Andy Robertson’s cross. With him, Liverpool were in control. Without him, it would have been tempting for despondency to set in after Kyllian Mbappé slammed home a late equaliser. But Liverpool would rise again, just as Sturridge had. Psychologically, this could prove to be Jürgen Klopp’s most significant win as Liverpool manager.

Liverpool celebrate their opening goal of the night (Getty Images)

Before Klopp was in charge at Anfield, Sturridge’s readiness increased Liverpool’s chances of winning games: being available made Liverpool so much more dangerous and exciting to watch, but being the first-choice pick and absent through injury impacted on momentum, stunting Liverpool’s confidence and ultimately their progression as a team.

Liverpool have moved past that point now and Sturridge, though remaining arguably the finest finisher available to Klopp, has had to convince the German of his endurance and motivations.

His selection here in place of Firmino would in theory mean that the midfielders that have to scurry behind Liverpool’s attack would have to scurry that little bit harder. And yet, Klopp had a trick up his sleeve because Liverpool’s front-three was fluid. Sturridge started in the centre, then he moved to the right and then the left.

The way the teams began illustrated what they are all about. There was the individual talent of Neymar showing strength and skill by dancing past four Liverpool players in the centre of the pitch before releasing a pass. Jamie Carragher, a person who knows how difficult it is to resist this type of hypnotism, turned around from his position in the press box open mouthed. And yet Liverpool responded with a bombardment of eight corners inside the first 25 minutes two of which forced saves from a nervous looking Alphonse Areola, a goalkeeper whose last appearance on this ground with Villarreal ended in a 3-0 defeat.

Anfield was loving this because Liverpool’s early show was full of aggression. Georginio Wijnaldum shoved Presnel Kimpembe to get the ball back as quickly as possible in order to take a throw-in and this presented Liverpool’s determination to dominate. The sight of Trent Alexander-Arnold raiding forward despite Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Juan Bernat operating on his side of the pitch exemplified Liverpool’s fearlessness. Liverpool’s right-back is two months senior to Mbappé. There were two world-class teenagers on display.

Sturridge made it 1-0 and James Milner made it two, another player whose redemption as a midfielder is a feature of Liverpool’s story. Thomas Meunier would reduce the deficit just before half time and again this would test Liverpool’s concentration and above everything, their fortitude. The silence when Mbappé pounced was unbearable but again, Liverpool roared back. Somehow, in the short space of time that remained, there would be another twist and in the dugout, Sturridge would squeeze Klopp. Their redemption complete.

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