In stark contrast to their summer transfer dealings, Liverpool were quick out the blocks yesterday as the Reds made their first significant move of the winter window by snapping up Daniel Sturridge on a long-term contract from Chelsea.
The Anfield club missed out on targets such as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey prior to the start of the season and having allowed Andy Carroll a loan move to West Ham, Brendan Rodgers’ attacking options have been somewhat limited in the opening five months of the campaign. After announcing the deal, Liverpool’s managing director Ian Ayre admitted the club were keen to get their business for the winter up and running:
“It was always going to be an important one. As we’ve said all along, the most important thing was to continue to strengthen the team – and clearly up front. Daniel is somebody we’ve always had in our sights and somebody the manager has had huge interest in right from the start. It was important to us that we did all of the work ahead of the transfer window in talking to Chelsea and the player and his representatives. We made sure we did that so we could have him hit the ground running in January – and here we are today on the second and we’re all done and dusted, so we’ll look forward to seeing him in a Liverpool shirt and on the pitch.”
For a 23-year-old, Sturridge has led a somewhat nomadic existence. A youth career that began at Coventry and Villa led the forward to Man City but, in spite of his renowned self-assurance, he struggled to make any real impact at the Etihad, with 21 appearances harvesting five goals and three assists over three seasons.
Snapped up by Chelsea in the summer of 2009 as his contract ran down, Sturridge spent a total of four seasons at the Bridge but his only real impact came mainly under Andre Villas-Boas last term. Starring on the wing in the 2011/12 campaign, he produced 11 goals and five assists from 30 appearances, compared to a combined haul of two goals and a pair of assists in 33 first-team outings over the rest of his time in London.
Indeed, Sturridge’s most impressive Premier League displays came on loan at Bolton in 2010/11. Handed a regular role at the Reebok under Owen Coyle, Sturridge – playing through the middle in a 4-4-2 – produced eight strikes in just 12 appearances; a sign of the goalscoring capabilities he hopes to bring to Anfield.
Upon arriving at the club, Sturridge once again reiterated a desire to play centrally but, within Rodgers’ default 4-3-3 formation, a role on the flank looks the likeliest outcome. With Luis Suarez’s displays through the middle bringing the Uruguayan 15 goals already, the former Chelsea man is expected to be handed a right flank berth, swapping wings with the likes of Raheem Sterling or Stewart Downing during matches – a tactic Rodgers has employed on plenty occasions this term.
Indeed, Sturridge’s arrival may well have a knock-on effect on the likes of Sterling. With his threadbare squad stretched to the limit this season, Rodgers has had little option but to play the teenager in every match since Gameweek 2 but cited fatigue when dropping Sterling to the bench during the recent festive fixture pileup – with more options on the flanks, he may choose to manage the teenager’s appearances slightly more efficiently. Downing’s game time is clearly at threat – he has started seven of the last eight now but Rodgers is now afforded the chance to pick and choose his wide men on either side of Suarez, while the likes of Suso and Jonjo Shelvey look set to drop further down the pecking order.
In a sense, the signing of Sturridge is somewhat at odds with Rodgers’ passing game ethos. Accusations of selfishness have been somewhat justified – the new arrival’s penchant for the spectacular, shooting from distance when a simple pass seems the obvious option; this will have to be reined in as he adjusts to his new surrounds. Rodgers talked up his new acquisition yesterday, pinpointing the qualities that persuaded him to splash the cash:
“He will give us power and presence at the top end of the field but the biggest thing is his hunger to perform. We are bringing in a player who knows he has to perform as he will be playing with one of the biggest clubs in the world. He has got quality. If he wants to stay at the top level, this is probably his last chance. I think he will prove a big hit and give us another attacking thread.”
Priced at 7.3 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL) and 8.5 in the Sky Sports game, Sturridge’s appeal is dented by his classification as a forward. With Sterling priced at 5.6 and listed as a midfielder in FPL, his 20% owners will be happy to hold, while Suarez’s electrifying performances surely make him the must-have Liverpool forward; therefore keeping Sturridge firmly in the Fantasy background. A regular role under Rodgers will certainly afford him the platform to justify his own self-belief but with Liverpool offering plenty other options such as Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson elsewhere, it may well take something quite spectacular for Sturridge to rocket onto Fantasy radars and come under consideration for our three-man forward lines.