Though he still enjoys messiah status at Liverpool, a misstep from Jürgen Klopp at the Madrigal showed on Thursday night that he is human after all.
Robbed of Divock Origi for the Europa League semi final first leg against Villarreal, Klopp decided to use Roberto Firmino in an advanced role rather than play Daniel Sturridge up front – a decision which backfired as the home side claimed a late 1-0 win to bring to Anfield next week.
Klopp justified the selection as be could before the match, explaining that the tactical setup of the team would not have suited Sturridge due to the player’s unfamiliarity with the setup:
“In a 4-3-3 we didn’t play with Daniel until now, so we thought for today — this 4-3-3, 4-5-1, sometimes a diamond, this very flexible style — it makes sense that the players played together before and that’s why we decided for this lineup.”
It stands to reason that Origi, had he been fit, would have led the line for Liverpool, so Klopp sacrificed his best available striker rather than alter the system itself.
Did it work? No, but had Liverpool come away with the win – as they came relatively close to achieving – then Klopp’s decision-making would have been hailed, so that is not necessarily the issue here.
What is the issue is that Klopp’s words should have Sturridge worried.
The implication is that the system is bigger than any one player, but where does that leave the England international? It’s not even as though he is in bad form – he has started in three of Liverpool’s last four Premier League games and scored in all of them – but if Klopp has decided that his best team does not include Stuurridge then there is only one way this can end.
It is telling that while Sturridge had been starting in the dead rubber Premier League matches recently in understrength lineups, when the first team regulars returned for the Merseyside derby, the 26 year old found himself relegated to the bench once again.
He may yet start this weekend’s trip to Swansea, but if does it will probably be alongside the likes of Kevin Stewart and Sheyi Ojo in a weakened team once again. Right now, that is where he ranks in Klopp’s order of preference.
Klopp has never felt the need to respect price tags (as evidenced by the unceremonious dropping of £32m man Christian Benteke) or reputations, but Sturridge has always been a player that needs to feel loved.
From the outset, relations between player and manager have never seemed quite right. Klopp may be sick of the constant Sturridge-related questions but – despite the goals he has scored – Sturridge has never seemed to have the same unconditional faith and trust from the boss that he enjoyed under Brendan Rodgers.
The second leg will be telling. Liverpool need goals, ergo they need Sturridge. The late goal conceded on Thursday changed the narrative of this tie – Klopp now has to put out a team that s prepared to score at least two, possibly more, goals at Anfield. Logic suggests that he will probably start – but how much of that is down to the drastic measures that need to be taken to advance to the final?
Then again, Klopp needed goals against Dortmund too and yet he still trusted Origi more.
Looking beyond this season, however, the future does not look promising for the former Chelsea striker. Klopp has his system in place now, and it appears to be one that he does not believe Sturridge is compatible with.