With second-half minutes ticking away and Chelsea leading at Stamford Bridge on Saturday evening, Liverpool looked certain to cede their unbeaten Premier League record, incapable of scoring for the first time since drawing a blank against Stoke in April.
For all the talk post-match that the match was some sort of classic — Maurizio Sarri even referred to the encounter as “beautiful” — it was hard to believe during it that either side was truly playing well. Eden Hazard took his goal expertly and Chelsea’s interplay in midfield was impressive, but they lacked vision around the penalty area and their opportunities to score were by-and-large presented to them by Liverpool mistakes.
The Reds fashioned chances too, sure, but at no point did they display anything like the ruthlessness or composure necessary to make them count. Even as David Luiz and Antonio Rudiger cleared off the line, it never really felt like the away side were hammering at the door. They were not using the utmost of their skill and ability to force the opposition’s will to break. They were not dictating the direction of travel.
For the first time this season, it felt as though Liverpool failed to assert any sustained control in the final third. Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah were incapable of producing an extended period of the kind of intense, rampaging football that regularly saw the defenders they harassed fall to their knees in exhaustion and frustration in the last campaign.
It is true that all three forwards have not quite managed to find the kind of rhythm that propelled Liverpool to unforeseen heights in 2017/18. Indeed, the Reds’ midfield and full-backs have been the stars of the show in their excellent run since August.
Soon they will find that rhythm again. Somewhere on Liverpool’s fixture schedule sits the name of a football team that will be on the receiving end of the first irrepressible, scintillating attacking display of 2018/19 by that triumvirate.
They will be the ones to feel their wrath. They will be embarrassed by them. They are coming for them, even if that team doesn’t know it yet.
But on Saturday that trio was not enough. Liverpool needed something else. They needed Daniel Sturridge.
Let’s be clear, there are a very small number of footballers on the planet who are capable of scoring the swooping equaliser he curled into the top corner. There are even fewer who would be able to do it moments after coming on as a substitute in the 89thminute with their team desperate for a goal. Fuck, there are probably only a tiny amount who would even be brave enough to attempt it.
In that moment, as well as in the two goals he scored at Anfield in his previous two outings, Daniel Sturridge proved that, against all odds, his prevailing will to succeed and natural ability mean he can make the kind of mark on this Liverpool side that the majority of onlookers thought was far beyond him at this stage.
Yes, he probably won’t become a regular starter this season. Yes, he will presumably succumb to injury at some point. And yes, he likely won’t score twenty goals in all competitions.
But y’know what? He might very well get ten. And if the three he has scored so far are any indication, those ten could be huge. They could be winners and equalisers. They could be difference makers. One of his goals could win a derby, again. One of his goals could win a game against Manchester United, again. One of his goals could win a Premier League or a European Cup.
What a privilege it was to have a player of Sturridge’s quality come off the bench and earn a result at the weekend. What a joy it was to see to see the wriggly arms back against Paris Saint-Germain.
What a peculiar career it is which he has had at Liverpool.
His signing was sought to lessen the goalscoring load on Luis Suárez back in January 2013, but few would have expected Sturridge to raise his level to such a extent that he almost matched the Uruguayan’s output at his peak. In his first season-and-a-half at the club, he netted 35 times as part of arguably the most devastating partnership in the club’s history. His joyous goal celebration became a part of the city’s pop culture, and he was adored as much as any other figure at the club.
Afterwards, of course, came the difficulties. Between 2014 and summer 2018 he scored more than 10 goals in just one season. He was absent through injury for a staggering 81 matches in the same period. That’s almost two seasons’ worth of football gone. Wiped.
In those four years he endured an atrocious loan spell with a team pre-destined to be relegated. He missed out on his country’s most successful World Cup for 28 years. He witnessed a plethora of ill-informed supporters and dubiously-intentioned journalists suggest that his lack of appearances was his own fault, that he lacked the desire to play for Liverpool and that he was using his injuries as an excuse.
And yet, there he is. Still there. Still scoring goals. Still scoring great goals. Still scoring the most important of goals.
Sturridge’s tale is one littered with periods of utter brilliance, and others of complete inefficacy.
Somehow, the period that defines his career could still be yet to come.
*all odds are subject to change