Daniel Sturridge scored his first goal since August when Liverpool beat Huddersfield Town by three goals to nil. The England striker has found regular appearances hard to come by, and the stop-start nature of his showings this campaign may have affected his rhythm.
In seasons gone by he has been reliable in front of goal whether coming off the bench or starting games, and has always boasted a reasonably good goals-per-90-munites ratio.
However, he has always clocked up better numbers when being used as a regular starter, as was the case during his first two seasons at the club, and during the 2015/16 campaign.
This time out, with the team struggling for consistency in all areas, the 28-year-old has found it difficult to settle into games and instantly find his goalscoring boots, and so far it’s been another campaign where he finds himself in and out of the side.
In the Huddersfield game at Anfield, he started for the first time since the draw at Newcastle United on the first day of October, and when presented with a chance to score his side’s opener he was ready to capitalise.
David Wagner’s side had proved difficult to break down. They were well organised in a 4-1-4-1 formation in defence, and as their manager commented after they game, they had stifled Liverpool up until the opportunistic opening goal.
“Until the first goal we played defensively very well; well organised and we neutralised their offensive power. I haven’t seen Anfield so quiet until the first goal,” said the German after the game.
This is why that first goal was so important, and it was also important that the ball fell to Sturridge after Alberto Moreno’s long ball had deflected unfortunately off the head of right-back Tommy Smith.
Prior to this the side had been presented with a number of chances, not least through a Mohamed Salah penalty, but also from a few opportunities in open play; a couple of which also fell to the Egyptian.
It looked like it could be another game where the side create chances but don't put them away, and they remain one of the Premier League‘s biggest under performers when it comes to expected goals (xG 20.49) compared with the amount of actual goals scored (17).
The first half passed without a goal, and Sturridge himself had a half-chance at the far post from a James Milner cross, but he hit the ball into the ground and over the bar from an awkward position and angle.
But the striker is the most natural finisher at the club and even though the big chance arrived quickly and unexpectedly, he still managed to compose himself and execute the finish with a show of good technique.
First and foremost it was a good choice when it came to the type of shot. There were numerous options available as the ball arrived at his feet with Jonas Lössl charging towards him, but he waited for the Huddersfield goalkeeper to commit and lifted the ball around and over him with his left foot.
It was the perfect finish given the scenario, and whereas others may have powered the ball into Lössl or took a needless extra touch to increase the difficulty of the chance, Sturridge was accurate, ruthless, and composed.
His first goal of the season against Arsenal had also demonstrated another part of his game: his good attacking movement. While his manager Jürgen Klopp may sometimes have to instruct him from the touchline as to where to close down the opposition in defence, his runs in attack require no guidance from others.
In the images below Laurent Koscielny glances at Sturridge to see which direction he is running in, but as soon as the striker sees this he steps off his left foot and darts to the back post where he turns home Salah's cross.
Football is all about taking opposition players out of the game, and making the best decisions at various key moments, and for Sturridge this type of finishing ability and movement is almost automatic.
They are instinctive touches and runs which anticipate the movement of the ball in and of the defenders and goalkeeper in order to give him the best chance of finding the back of the net.
Though they’ve created a number of good chances this season, Liverpool have missed this type of ability up front, and Sturridge could be exactly the type of goal poacher they need for the rest of the season.
As alluded to earlier, he performs better when given regular starts rather than relying on appearances off the bench here and there to get his goals.
The graphic below shows his league appearances, with substitute outings in brackets, alongside his goalscoring record per 90 minutes each season since his arrival on Merseyside. There is a clear boost in his numbers when these minutes played come from the beginning of games rather than from the bench.
His presence in the team wouldn’t mean that Roberto Firmino would have to be dropped, either, as the Brazilian’s contribution to the side is also very important. He even managed to get a goal of his own in this game, getting his head to the ball as Liverpool scored a rare goal from a corner kick.
The No. 9 has seven goals in 15 games so far this season, plus four assists, and with him and Sturridge, as well as one of the quick players such as Sadio Mané or Salah in the side, they could provide a full array of goalscoring threats. Not to mention the return of Philippe Coutinho in midfield.
Klopp has altered his defence so that his side stop conceding chances on the counter attack, with the Tottenham Hotspur defeat serving as a wake-up call where lessons were learnt.
If he can alter his attack to accommodate Sturridge, they may well start to be more ruthless going forward, and turn xG into arlNB (actual real life net-bulgers).