As England were beating Sweden to reach the World Cup semi-finals in Russia, Daniel Sturridge was turning out for Liverpool in a pre-season friendly at Chester.
For a striker often considered the most naturally gifted finisher of his generation, it highlighted how far the 29-year-old had fallen since being England’s first-choice forward at the 2014 World Cup.
Loaned to West Brom last season and dogged by a seemingly endless list of injuries, Sturridge appeared to be on his way out of Liverpool, a club boasting one of Europe’s most fearsome attacks.
But Sturridge has fought his way back, with Saturday’s stunning late equaliser at Chelsea the latest evidence of a player reborn.
Coming back from the brink
From the outside, Sturridge’s move to West Brom appeared to be nothing short of a disaster.
Brought in with the intention of boosting the Baggies’ Premier League survival chances, the former Chelsea striker barely featured as injuries once again limited his game time.
In the six months he was there, he made six appearances and just two starts. The second of those ended with his substitution after only four minutes because of injury.
But Sturridge is adamant the move was good for him, saying it had helped him “grow as a person”.
His performances since have supported that view. Sturridge impressed in pre-season, scoring four goals, and has taken that form into the season. He scored in the 4-0 opening-day win against West Ham and has now scored three goals in his past three games in all competitions.
‘He was always in my thoughts’
Sturridge has featured in seven games so far this season – more than he has managed at the same point in any prior campaign under Jurgen Klopp.
The German said he had never lost faith in Sturridge, despite his injury troubles.
“He was always in my thoughts but he could never prove it,” said Klopp. “He was unlucky. We thought West Brom was a good idea to get minutes under his belt again but unfortunately that didn’t work out.
“However, from the first minute of pre-season he was as fit as ever. He had a long spell after injury at West Brom. Now it pays off. It’s nice and absolutely deserved.”
Sturridge the super sub
While Klopp is adamant he never lost faith in Sturridge, he is handling him with care so far this season.
Sturridge has played for 187 minutes – the only time he has managed fewer at this stage of a season under Klopp was in 2015-16, when he started the first two games of the campaign before getting injured.
But Sturridge is making his mark as a super sub.
His goal against Chelsea means he has now scored 17 Premier League goals as a substitute – only Olivier Giroud (19) and Jermain Defoe (24) have scored more.
It is not a role he will relish in the long term, but it is one he accepts at the moment.
“All I’m doing is focusing on the team being successful,” he after Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
“I take every day as it comes and train hard. Everyone is pushing themselves to the limit.”
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/45695930