Less than two years left on his contract, Daniel Sturridge was thrust back into the spotlight against Newcastle United ahead of Roberto Firmino. The 28-year old had a great opportunity to stake a claim and show fans what they have been missing on a regular basis over the last three years. Sturridge categorically fluffed his lines and patience is wearing thin for a player who appears to low and confidence, out of form and desperately out of touch.
The striker was blasted by both Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness in the aftermath of their 1-1 draw at St-James’ Park and despite collectively being an under-par performance by Liverpool, it was Sturridge who received the biggest backlash from many disgruntled reds fans before he was hauled off in the 74th minute. Liverpool supporters have been waiting for him to reproduce the scintillating form that saw him finish the 2013/14 season with 25 goals alongside Luis Suarez. However, the harsh reality is that he has never come close to recapturing that form and the stats make grim reading for Liverpool ticket holders.
Liverpool needed him to step forward. A high-quality finisher was required at a time when many of Liverpool’s top-four rivals have one of their own – Romelu Lukaku, Sergio Agüero, Alvaro Morata, Harry Kane. There once was a time when Sturridge could match such names, but no longer. The sharpness is not there, his movement is sluggish and his finishing rusty. He looked like every inch a player who has started only 27 Premier League games out of a possible 120 in the last three years at Liverpool.
It wasn’t long ago that Sturridge was being spoken of as one of the most deadly finishers in Europe alongside Suárez as Liverpool asserted a thrilling title charge with Sturridge playing a leading role with 25 goals in 33 appearances in attack. He was at his peak, ready to kick on, ready to become a Liverpool and England star. However, his career remains frustratingly unfulfilled and a clean slate in January may be the best option for both parties with no sign of a new contract on the horizon.
There is no doubting Sturridge’s quality. At his best, there aren’t many better. However, with constant injuries and lack of game time it may be some time until we see the best of him again, whether that be in the red of Liverpool or the colours of anybody else. The striker has showed glimpses of what he can offer, however his Liverpool career is veering towards a rather stale conclusion. His weekend audition for a starting spot against Newcastle confirmed no more that a one-time regular is now a regular backup option for Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp.
The 28 year-old had scored seven times in seven previous outings against Newcastle, a happy hunting ground. Yet his most recent outing was certainly one to forget as he lined up in a central role of a potent three-man attack alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. Former Kop legend, Graeme Souness described Sturridge’s performance as “laboured” and the Sky Sports pundit said: "There was no cuteness in his game that you normally associate with him. I thought he looked laboured, he looked off the pace.”
"Today he looked like a player that hadn't trained properly and prepared for his opportunity. It might be a month or another six weeks before Jurgen Klopp goes with him again. I thought he was so disappointing today. If everything is right with Sturridge, he is one of the first names on the team-sheet but looking at him today, he was miles away."
Likewise, Jamie Carragher was another former red to criticise his ex team-mate, suggesting he was past his best. Carragher said: "Because he doesn't play much now, whenever we talk about Sturridge we keep going back to that season when Liverpool nearly won the league - he was devastating with Luis Suarez.”
Carragher added: "I don't think that player is there now, whether that's due to injuries or not playing enough. The reason he played today is because Roberto Firmino is not playing well. If Firmino is playing his normal level, then Sturridge doesn't play. Klopp doesn't fancy Sturridge, that's why he doesn't play."
Sturridge does not look happy and he looks desperately short of confidence. He does not look like he is enjoying being a Liverpool player right now and it must raise doubts about his long-term future at Anfield. Sturridge will be relieved that the international break has come and he will be looking to raise his game over the next couple weeks on England duty before turning his attention to a testing run of fixtures in the Premier League and Champions League on his Liverpool return. What role Sturridge will play in those games remains to be seen.