He is one of Liverpool’s forgotten men, one of a group either distanced by injury or adherence to a tactical philosophy which is as exacting as it is physically demanding. He rests amongst Danny Ings, Jon Flanagan, Mamadou Sakho, and on-loan Lazar Marković in a deep mire dictated by a manager who demands a certain type of player, a certain type of commitment. Daniel Sturridge, the man who ‘if he could only be fit he’d be the best English striker, is now a 27-year-old searching for a way out of the den filled with ravenous attacking lions who have found favour with King Jürgen Klopp.

No longer do we hear the longing of Liverpool fans who are just itching to get the man who, along with Luis Suárez, almost propelled the red team from the Merseyside to a first ever title in the Premier League era. Instead, any news of his return to full fitness is met with skepticism that borders on disdain.

“Show me that first before I believe.”

There is no faith in Daniel Sturridge’s ability to be the consistent 20-goal a season striker for which his talent ordains. He finds himself surrounded by at least three lions ahead of him in the pecking order that could be shifted around to ensure he rides the pine most of the time.

Is it too late to escape?

Sturridge in 2016 was not a Klopp striker. Sturridge in 2017 is even more likely to continue to not be a Klopp player. The graceful, silky, weaving runs that we saw in the career that defines our frustrations with his injury woes are no longer. He won’t be the player to have that extra oomph and injection of pace that accentuated his prodigious and all or nothing dribbling style. When it came off, it was a joy to behold, much like with his partner who has only grown exponentially since while he remains in the dungeon destined to ponder what could and should have been.

Daniel Sturridge speed
Injuries have slowly eaten away at the game changing pace of Daniel Sturridge. Source: Sky Sports

Now, it’s a question of whether yet another forward who was made special by his pace can still be special without it. This is not to reduce his game to running. Sturridge is much, much more than that, His finishing is second to none amongst those who are eligible for an England national team shirt. This includes Harry Kane and all. His dribbles, although often running the risk of being more flash than substance, could be devastating when in tandem with those of Raheem Sterling and Suárez. His understanding of space, passing in tight spaces, natural anticipation, and ability to produce the sublime cannot be matched by any striker of English birth. However, many of those natural qualities are undoubtedly ones that rest of having the pace to execute. Recent evidence suggests he may not have the pace to execute in a Klopp system and there’s nothing to suggest things will change.

Counter Press

Sturridge was never one that we could say was the biggest team player. He was always the showman that craved the spotlight and the glory. How good was he at it though? Very, very good.

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge
Magical, short-lived partnership.

The overriding issue with his decline in speed and stamina after that many injuries are that he’s acquired mental impediments that make him question every run, every pressing move, every time he decides to mark a runner or track back. Anything of the sort is suicide for first eleven chances for the man that favours Roberto Firmino and will go into the season as the only top six team without an established number nine. Like most of the top managers in the Premier League, Klopp favours hard running, high impact football. This is the antithesis of Sturridge in 2017. Gegenpressing is his nemesis and, if he is to somehow defeat long odds, it must not be his conqueror.

Nobody doubts his talent. After a time, absence no longer makes the heart grow fonder and fans have just moved on from the Sturridge idea. Pre-season must be a time for him to make perception shattering inroads into the psyche of fans, and most importantly, his manager. This is a manager who has publicly questioned the severity of his numerous injuries. If the mental is being insinuated, then Daniel, we have a problem. Klopp questions his mentality. He certainly doesn’t question that of the ever-willing Firmino, Adam Lallana, or Sadio Mané to put in the hard, grass killing sprints that make Liverpool a nagging proposition for top Premier League teams who are used to a certain level of comfort and control.

Leaders in Combined Goals and Assists: 2013/14. Source: http://www.myfootballfacts.com/Premier_League_Combined_2013-14.html

This is why Jürgen Klopp favours his lions. Daniel? He’s one of the forgotten men. Sturridge is one those men who although admired by King Klopp for his talent that he’d not forsake him and drive him off to the likes of Paris Saint-Germain, doesn’t match the fire of the manager. Three years away from 30, it’s now or never for Sturridge as he enters what should have been his prime. For now, he’s mired in the pit, crying out for the plaudits and recognition he earned three long seasons ago. In full flow, he’s a joy to watch. For that, many would love to see him survive that pit of lions and assert himself amongst the 20-goal men from Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea.

Can he? Do you still have faith he can?