After a season and a half of constant injuries, Daniel Sturridge was finally able to return to fitness over a prolonged stretch during the second half of the 2015-16 season. Jürgen Klopp’s requirement of Sturridge having to train fully for ten days prior to competing in a competitive match really paid off. The Englishman made 25 appearances in all competitions—almost all of which came after the turn of the year—a better mark than the 18 he mustered a year prior. Although Sturridge was unable to reach the heights of his stunning 2013-14 form, the quality is clearly still there. Now that he is able to complete a full preseason and regain total fitness before the start of the 2016-17 campaign, Sturridge should return to the dynamic player he once was.
Over 25 appearances in all competitions, Sturridge recorded a solid 13 goals and two assists. The Englishman scored every 122.4 minutes in the Premier League, a better mark than Tottenham Hotspur Striker and Golden Boot winner Harry Kane who scored a goal every 134.7 minutes. For Sturridge to be more prolific on a per minute basis than Kane despite not even coming close to what he is capable of while also playing a few matches with a heavily rotated squad is extremely impressive. Sturridge is an absolute predator when leading the line, who puts away just about every chance he gets when in form. Sturridge has an innate ability to sniff out chances and score goals that most other strikers would not. His tremendous technical ability helps him put away chances, such as in the Europa League Final against Sevilla F. C., that are an exhibit of his world-class capabilities. The fact that Sturridge was still able to be as effective as he was despite playing at about 60-70% of what he is capable of shows how impactful he can be this next season if he can stay fit.
The two biggest differences between Sturridge in 2013-14 versus Sturridge in 2015-16 is in the quality of his shots and his on-ball prowess both being slightly below what he is accustomed to. This year, Sturridge took only 0.1 of his 3.4 shots per match from inside the six yard box, while accumulating 1.4 shots outside the penalty box. Sturridge needs to do a better job being more selective in his shot taking and perhaps continuing buildup play in order to create a better opportunity to score. In 2013-14, the Englishman took 0.4 shots inside the six yard box and only 1.2 shots outside the box. The difference in these numbers can be a significant chunk of the difference between scoring every 108.3 minutes as he did in 2013-14, and scoring every 122.4 minutes as he did in the most recent campaign. Perhaps the reason why he chose to take more low percentage shots, however, is because of a lack of confidence on the ball. Sturridge only mustered 0.5 key passes per match in the Premier League this season compared to 1 key pass in 2013-14. Additionally, Sturridge was dispossessed 2.3 times per match, a significantly higher mark than the 1.8 times he lost possession in 2013-14. All of these statistics as a whole would suggest that the Englishman was a little bit selfish this season. It appears as though Sturridge would often choose to try and score a goal by himself rather than continuing build up play or picking out an incisive pass. Some of this can surely be chalked up to having to play with a heavily rotated side in a few Premier League fixtures, but if Sturridge is to regain the heights of 2013-14, he needs to be more patient and pick out a pass rather than putting his head down and trying to do it all on his own.
For a player who wasn’t fit for basically a year and a half, Sturridge’s return over the second half of the season was impressive. When expanded over the course of a full season, Sturridge would have been right up at the top of the Premier League scoring charts with Jamie Vardy and Kane if he were not injured for a good chunk of the year. Looking to the future, expecting Sturridge to return to his 2013-14 form is almost totally reliant on his fitness. Klopp’s style of pressing can be very difficult on a player’s body, so it is vitally important that Sturridge goes through a true preseason. Even if it requires missing the first few weeks of the season regaining his fitness after the European Championships, Klopp needs to ensure that Sturridge’s stamina is up to par with what he demands of his players or else he may have to undergo another injury plagued season. Luckily, it is obvious that Klopp is well aware of what is needed to keep Sturridge off the treatment table as this past season showed.
Liverpool is totally different with Sturridge on the squad, as much of the club’s success this season came with Sturridge in the squad. He is perhaps the only player at Anfield that can truly be categorized as “world class” and his importance to the side cannot be under estimated. The Reds only lost four of his 22 appearances between the Premier League and the Europa League. His impact on the pitch is tremendous even when he is misfiring. Now that he has a manager in charge who knows how to manage his fitness and keep him off the injured list, Sturridge can once again return to the level he displayed in 2013-14. If last season was any indication of the success Liverpool can aspire to with a fit Sturridge, having the Englishman in form on a weekly basis could propel the Reds to a title challenge. As has been the issue throughout his career at Anfield, when Sturridge is playing, Liverpool is winning. Now that the Reds have a manager who seems to be adept at keeping the star striker fit, Liverpool fans can perhaps look forward to a whole lot of winning come the 2016-17 season.