02 January 2013

On Daniel Sturridge

The worst-kept secret in the transfer market has finally been confirmed. Daniel Sturridge is now a Liverpool player.

I am amazingly ambivalent on this deal. I don't hate it, I don't love it, it just is. Which rarely happens. So, if you want statistics and in-depth evaluations of his abilities, I suggest visiting The Liverpool Word and EPL Index. Sorry.

Now then. If you're still here after that amazing sales pitch...

First and foremost, Sturridge is clearly a player who can improve Liverpool, and a player who can improve at Liverpool. We all know Liverpool's biggest issue is goals – if not Suarez, then no one, etc etc – and Sturridge scores goals. Since Borini's injury, Suarez has been Liverpool's only senior striker, while the likes of Sterling, Suso, Shelvey, and Downing have manned the flanks. Sturridge immediately improves that group of forwards. And that's pretty much the alpha and omega of it, despite all the words that come after this.

He was Chelsea's joint-top scorer in the league last season, mainly thanks to Torres' form, Lampard's injuries, and Villas-Boas' time at the club. Nine of his 11 goals – the same total as Suarez tallied last season – were scored in the 27 matches that Villas-Boas managed, with Sturridge making 20 starts. The excellent Bass Tuned to Red compared Sturridge's shooting accuracy and shot conversion ratio to Suarez's yesterday; his accuracy is uncannily similar over the last 30 matches, his shot conversion marginally better. Whether playing on the flanks or through the middle, he will score goals for Liverpool, and Liverpool desperately, desperately need goals.

However, there are the usual concerns.

We might as well get the most facile out of the way. Once again, Liverpool buy English, and pay slightly over the odds for it. It's certainly not £35m for Carroll, but it's a reported £12m for an out-of-favor player who has 18 months left on his contract. And it's an English player who's bounced around the big clubs, having left both City and Chelsea despite barely being 23 years old. I know nationality shouldn't be a concern, but it's not as if the club have had much luck with these types of transfer lately. Liverpool have now spent somewhere around £105m on six British players in the last five transfer windows, making up the majority of those windows' business: Carroll, Henderson, Adam, Downing, Allen, and now Sturridge.

Rightly or wrongly, he's also seen as a selfish player sometimes guilty of making bad decisions. He tallied just three assists in 30 appearances last season, averaging only 0.8 chances created per match, with an average of 23.4 passes per match – far below what Suarez, Sterling, et al usually total in Rodgers' system this season.

There's also the question of how capable he is in tracking back and pressing from the front. Despite often playing on the flanks for Chelsea, he averaged the fewest tackles of any Chelsea player in the squad last season (0.3 per match, just eight in the campaign). Sterling currently averages 1.8 per match, Borini 1.4, Downing 1.1, Suso 1.0, and Suarez 0.9, His interceptions total was slightly better – 0.6 per match – above Suarez, Downing, and Suso, below Sterling and Borini, but still low enough to be a concern. The wide forwards need to track back in Rodgers' formation, especially with full-backs like Enrique and Johnson.

Which leads into my preeminent concern. Will he actually play as a wide forward?

Rodgers is sticking with the 4-3-3 formation. Whether it's a 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-2-3 doesn't really matter in this case, because the front three have played the same way no matter how Liverpool's midfield has been arranged. Sturridge was almost always deployed as a right-sided striker in AVB's 4-3-3 and as a left-winger in DiMatteo's 4-2-3-1, but reportedly wants to be a central striker at his new club.

Sure, you can argue that it doesn't really matter who starts where because both Suarez and Sturridge will interchange early and often, but someone's going to spend more time in the middle. And based on his scoring exploits so far this season, that someone should be Luis Suarez. Meanwhile, the other will have to track back to help out in defense. Can Sturridge do it regularly? Should Suarez? Any move that takes him further from goal is a move I'm skeptical of. The Uruguayan started on the flanks just once under Rodgers – the 1-1 against Sunderland, which simply did not work, and ended with him moving back into the middle, where he scored the equalizer from approximately six minutes after the positional shift.

Regardless, Liverpool have now done the bare minimum of what they needed to accomplish during this transfer window, making up for some of this summer's failings. Liverpool have added a proven goalscorer to the squad, beginning to deepen the incredibly shallow front line. A goalscorer who, like Borini, is capable of playing any of the forward roles. A goalscorer who's Premier League proven, an England international, and at 23, could and should still develop further. Sterling won't have to play every match anymore, Suso and Shelvey won't have to be round pegs that are crammed into square holes so often, and Downing and Cole will appear less often (the latter might even depart!).

Whether he's the right goalscorer, the right addition, remains to be seen. He could be, he might not be. But beggars don't often get to be choosers, and right now, Liverpool's begging.

I apologize for this being a piss-poor welcome, but welcome to Liverpool, Danny.


Mike Georger said...

"And it's an English player who's bounced around the big clubs, having left both City and Chelsea despite barely being 23 years old"

Don't think it's quite fair to say he's bounced around the bigger clubs. He was City's young player of the season the year he left and he didn't leave because they didn't want him, they just wouldn't give in to his 60k a week demands. Plus seeing as City refused to agree on the price they were owed for him (which he did hit every escalator for, ended up costing CFC £6.5m) and Mancini said several times he never would have let them walk, I forgot where I was going with this.

And yet I'm still rather lukewarm about the whole thing. Just a creamy middle. I miss the dizzying highs.

Sameer said...

You linked to an article I wrote! Dreams, coming true, etc.

The main things with Sturridge, aside from his tracking back, for me at least have to be:

1. Will his selfishness take shots away from teammates that deserve them

2. is this transfer solely based on the results of half a season with Chelsea and 12 games with Bolton.

If his inclination for shooting instead of passing to teammates in better positions means that an in-form Suarez gets less chances to score that is surely bad, but if he takes away shots from people who aren't accurate/clinical anyway (Downing, Sterling perhaps) perhaps that's not so bad.

Also, there is something troubling about the fact that he hasn't made any sort of headway to being played regularly at Chelsea, despite Torres' inconsistencies and there being literally no other option. They're only too happy to see him go and that's slightly troubling.