Transfers

Why Aston Villa should gamble this summer on former Red

 • by Tom Bodell
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Eighty-two Premier League goals, 32 Premier League assists, 26 England caps and still the right side of 30. Clubs should be queueing around the block to take Daniel Sturridge this summer.

But they aren’t.

It’s now five years since the Birmingham native formed one of the most deadly strike partnerships in English top-flight history with Luis Suárez, very nearly firing Liverpool to their first Premier League title since 1990 with a return of 21 goals under the inimitable Brendan Rodgers.

But the Reds slipped at the final hurdle and Manchester City – Sturridge’s first club – nipped in to capitalise. The 29-year-old has never been the same since, managing just 36 Premier League starts in the next five seasons.

Injuries are to blame, of course, but there are question marks over the forward’s willingness to put his body on the line and whether his physical issues are truly prohibitive.

Sturridge briefly threatened a comeback at the start of last season, netting in three consecutive games against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea (twice), the latter a stunning last-gasp equaliser from distance.

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge celebrates his Premier League goal against Chelsea

But that brief flurry was as good as it got for Sturridge in 2018/19 and he failed to find the back of the net again, even losing his status as super-sub to Divock Origi, hero of that Anfield night against Barcelona.

His contract at Liverpool now expired, Sturridge is available for nothing this summer and Aston Villa are reportedly heading the queue to offer him a Premier League lifeline. Major League Soccer franchise New York City FC are another option.

A return to the Midlands might appeal to Sturridge. The forward joined West Bromwich Albion on loan for the second half of 2017/18 – rejecting other offers and despite the Baggies being mired in relegation trouble – in order to move closer to home.

The switch did not work out, however, injury restricting him to just 116 minutes and two league starts.

Yet his ability is not in question. In one audacious sweep of his left boot at Stamford Bridge, Sturridge gave a timely reminder of his ability. Lobbing Blues keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga from 25 yards, the former England international rescued a point with his 13th Reds goal as a substitute, preserving Liverpool’s unbeaten start in the process.

But that goal was an all-too-rare glimpse of his innate talent in what has been a barren few years. At his best, Sturridge can score goals, lurk on the shoulder of the last defender or drop off and link the play.

It’s difficult to read too much into his statistical output for the last three seasons because he simply hasn’t played enough minutes to draw a meaningful conclusion – just 1,043, in fact.

Yet despite his diminishing role at Anfield Jürgen Klopp was effusive in his praise of the 29-year-old once it was confirmed he would be leaving the club upon the expiry of his contract.

“Daniel has earned the right to be considered a modern-day Liverpool great, I would think,” Klopp said. “He came to the club while we were trying to rebuild and re-establish ourselves. Some of the goals he has scored for Liverpool were so, so, so important.

“He is one of the best finishers I have ever seen in my life. He scores goals you think could and should not be possible.”

Liverpool forward Daniel Sturridge's 2018/19 Premier League stats

Klopp continued by paying tribute to some of Sturridge personal qualities: “What maybe is missed on the outside of the club by many is what a great leader Daniel is in our dressing room.

“He is smart, confident and not afraid to speak up when he thinks there is something that needs adapting to help the team. He has been great with many of the younger players also, so he has been so important to our progression here.”

That could prove invaluable to a Villa side coming back into the Premier League after three seasons away. Manager Dean Smith is a top-flight rookie while last season’s 25-goal top scorer Tammy Abraham has returned to parent club Chelsea to fight for a regular place under new boss Frank Lampard.

He leaves Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan and new signing Wesley behind as Villa’s senior frontmen, none of whom have played in the Premier League before while Hogan spent the second half of last season on loan at Sheffield United as the Blades won promotion too.

Plenty is expected of Wesley, a £22million signing from Belgian side Club Brugge, but there is no guarantee of how the Brazilian forward will fare in England. A return of 35 goals in 117 Belgian top-flight outings is reasonable, if on the modest side.

Sturridge could, therefore, be a shrewd gamble for the Villans. But with his lengthy injury record, he will always be a gamble.

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