Red Letter: Liverpool’s new S.A.S fighting the wrong battles

Ian Watson

TEAMtalk’s resident Red, Dave Tindall, gets firmly behind Jurgen Klopp in his man-management of two of his squad’s most problematic individuals.

S.A.S. was the moniker given to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge when they struck fear into Premier League defences in that magical yet ultimately flawed 2013/2014 campaign.

Suarez smashed in 31 goals, Sturridge racked up 21 and the deadly duo finished first and second in the Premier League goalscoring charts as Liverpool passed the 100-goal mark.

It appears this season that Sturridge is again one half of an S.A.S double act, this time with a big but troubled French centre-back.

The new S.A.S

Yes, there is a new S.A.S at Liverpool – Sturridge and Sakho. Or, if you’re taking a dim view of the pair, how about Sulky and Stupid.

I don’t like having a go at my own players but both are creating the wrong headlines for LFC at the moment.

For many Reds fans, and I used to include myself in this, Sturridge and Sakho are two of the first names on the team-sheet. And understandably so. Sturridge remains the club’s most lethal finisher and Sakho’s warrior spirit has often been vital. All things being equal he would be the next Liverpool skipper and I’ve previously argued the case for this.

But, folks, we need to get real. All things are not equal. The pair have fallen down the pecking order and we need to trust Jurgen Klopp over the reasons why.

So far this season, Sturridge wasn’t fit for the opening 4-3 win over Arsenal, looked off the pace in the miserable 2-0 loss at Burnley and came on as an 88th minute substitute in the 1-1 draw at Spurs.

We did see glimpses of his deadly finishing in the League Cup tie at Burton when he came on as a 64th minute sub to blast in the final two goals in a 5-0 romp. And if making the case for the defence you’d use that as exhibit A.

The argument would be that after he’d struggled at Burnley when deployed on the wing, this was a timely reminder of what he can deliver when played through the middle. Get him in or around the box and he’s deadly.

Sturridge made the point himself, saying he was a centre-forward first and foremost and, not for the first time in his career, getting a sulk on and reluctantly adding that he’d play wide if he had to.

Having nearly thrown a brick at the screen when Roy Hodgson played him as a right winger against Iceland in the Euros, I actually agree with our No.15 here. He is clearly at this best when used as an out-and-out striker.

But here’s where we need to bring some subtlety to the argument.

Flat-track bully

If we agree that Liverpool’s main rivals this season are Manchester United, Manchester City, Spurs and Arsenal, how about checking some stats.

Klopp has done battle against this elite quartet 13 times in his brief time at Liverpool. He’s suffered defeat just twice and one of those was only after a penalty shootout in last season’s Capital One Cup final. It’s an excellent record, especially away from home where he’s won three, drawn three and lost none. Liverpool fans are now expectant rather than fearful in these big away games.

Want to know when Sturridge last scored a goal at either Old Trafford, The Emirates, The Etihad or White Hart Lane? The answer is February 3rd, 2013. That’s over three and a half years ago. Okay, he’s missed some games through injury but that’s still a significant stat.

Why then the big fuss that he didn’t play at Spurs?

Caption this… ?

A photo posted by Daniel Sturridge – Dstudge (@iamdanielsturridge) on

Under Klopp, all our great away performances against top opposition have been in Sturridge-less starting XI’s and it’s no coincidence. Roberto Firmino is far superior at pressing, tracking back and switching positions at will with our other attacking players. Divock Origi will get out wide, run the channels and stretch the pitch.

Due to the accumulation of injuries and the self-doubt that brings, Sturridge isn’t the athlete he was when running amok with Suarez (even then, the Uruguayan did most of the donkey work).

Klopp is aware of this and uses him intelligently – in those matches where the opposition set out their stall and it takes clever, smaller, subtler movements to break them down. That’s Daniel’s game these days.

I remain a big Sturridge fan. His left foot is a wand and, of course, the majority of games we play aren’t against big-name opposition. We need an array of attacking weapons and he remains a potent one.

But we have to trust Klopp. It’s about the team and using the right players at the right time. Nothing our German manager has done so far has shown me that he has something against Sturridge.

Which brings me on to the confusing case of Mamadou Sakho.

Attitude problem

A sizeable number of Liverpool fans are downright furious that the Frenchman was told he had to go out on loan to save his Anfield career. In the end he refused to go which I can’t work out is a sign of loyalty or disloyalty!

For many, they view this something as personal. They say it’s Klopp merely using his position to win a battle of egos.

The thing is, unless we are privy to the goings on inside Anfield, how can we possibly gauge the dynamics of their relationship?

What we do know is that Sakho has previous. Former managers have pointed out his poor diet and how he’s been unprofessional and abrasive with other members of coaching staff.

And, unfortunately, history appears to be repeating at Anfield. Suspended, although later exonerated, for an anti-drug charge was an embarrassing episode for the club and instead of lying low he then let himself down again on the summer trip to America and was sent home for showing poor attitude.

Once more, we have to trust Klopp here. Sakho can be immense, often in big games, but he’s always had a mistake in him and can spread uncertainty. It appears those words apply equally to him off the field.

Mamadou Sakho: Still has Liverpool future

Saying he could leave on loan was a brave piece of man management by Klopp and could well have been just the kick up the backside that Sakho needed. PSG cut their losses and sold him but at least we were dangling a carrot and saying to him that he still has a future at Liverpool if he wants to work for it.

He’ll now have to prove that inside Anfield but away from the first team unless Klopp does a U-turn. It’s a complicated situation and Sakho is taking a huge risk by hanging around.

Will he be sorely missed if Klopp keeps him sidelined? Possibly, but watching Joel Matip glide around like a Rolls-Royce against Spurs was reassuring to fans and probably teammates alike while Ragnar Klavan looks like solid back-up.

Without doubt, Sturridge and Sakho are two fantastic players. But this is the modern game. Football has moved on. Relying on pure talent or showing a lack of professionalism will catch up with you.

That doesn’t mean we want a team of James Milners as there should always be scope for individuality.

But, for Klopp, the team is everything. If you don’t want to be part of the project, there are plenty of others who do. Sturridge and Sakho need to take note or Liverpool’s current S.A.S are shooting themselves in the foot.