Over the last few years, Liverpool have twice come close to lifting the Premier League title only to fall short by the finest of margins. They lost out to Manchester City on both occasions-and while the 18/19 season was decided by City’s brilliance, the same can’t be said of the 13/14 campaign during which the Reds needed just 7 points from their last three games to lift the title. An agonizing mistake that will forever be etched in the minds of the Anfield faithful overshadowed an outstanding season from the Merseyside outfit which saw them play some of the most entertaining football in the Premier League’s history. One of the chief contributors to this was Daniel Sturridge, who joined Liverpool from Chelsea in January 2013 for a fee of £13.5m.
Liverpool started their 13/14 league campaign with Suarez ruled out for the first five games as he was serving the remainder of a ten-game suspension he’d received for munching on Ivanovic’s arm. Without their leading scorer from the past two seasons, Liverpool needed someone else to step up in front of goal and Sturridge did precisely that. He scored the only goal in 3 consecutive 1-0 wins for the club, the third of which was against title holders Manchester United. Sturridge would go on to score five more goals over the next six games, including a fabulous chipped finish from 20 yards out that left West Brom shot-stopper Boaz Myhill helpless. That goal was a sign of the level Sturridge was playing at – any angle, any range, he always offered a goal threat.
“If he keeps his fitness, he would be a big threat for any team. Look at him, and people would think he might be a Brazilian striker with his physique and his pace and power. England are fortunate to have him because he’s a big talent, but he knows he needs to be consistent”, said Brendan Rodgers, after Liverpool’s win away to Aston Villa.
Liverpool’s trip to the Stadium of Light in the last week of September 2013 saw the return of their main man Luis Suarez, who’d go on to score his first two goals of the season. Both goals were assisted by none other than Daniel Sturridge, who got his name on the score sheet as well. These were early days, but the partnership between the two looked promising. Suarez and Sturridge were both lethal, dynamic, goal-hungry forwards. Through their movement, they were able to create openings for each other. They had a unique understanding, that could only be described as telepathic. They always knew where to find one another.
“As it turned out we complemented each other very well. It’s hard for defenders when there are two players who are mobile. If you have someone like Daniel who moves well, who’s quick, who finishes chances well, then that makes space for me and vice versa” said Suarez in his autobiography, ‘Crossing the Line’.
Suarez and Sturridge would go on to score a combined 52 league goals that season, making them the league’s top 2 goal scorers, the first time both had come from the same club in the Premier League era. Sturridge contributed 21 goals to this tally, and he also managed to create seven goals for his teammates, assisting Suarez 5 times. Suarez also managed to set Sturridge up five times, and together they formed one of the deadliest duos in the division’s history. The fans nicknamed them ‘SAS’ and the pair would become the most prolific strike partnership since the original ‘SAS’- Shearer and Sutton, who scored 49 league goals for Blackburn in the 94/95 season. Just like Shearer and Sutton, the Liverpool front two didn’t share much of a relationship off the pitch. They were selfish players who were always looking to make a difference for their team, but somehow that benefited each other.
“It never got nasty, but there was an edge between them. There probably were some games when Luis was a bit heavy on Daniel. We kept an eye on it, but it didn’t matter that Sturridge and Suarez would never be mates. If they shared fifty goals a season I wouldn’t care if they never said as many words to each other” said Liverpool legend and captain for the 13/14 season, Steven Gerrard, in his autobiography ‘My Story’.
What was a memorable season for Sturridge could have been even better if it weren’t the difficulties he faced with injuries. Towards the end of November, he picked up a knock in his ankle that forced him out of the squad for the entirety of December, including the busy Christmas period. Three of Liverpool’s six losses that season came during Sturridge’s spell on the sidelines and two of them were at the hands of title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea. Liverpool were by no means ‘struggling’ in Daniel’s absence, as Suarez hit a purple patch where he got himself ten goals and three assists over a stretch of four games. Still, the Uruguayan wasn’t able to single-handedly make the difference in the big games, and looking back at it a contribution from Sturridge in those games could have given the Reds an edge in the title race.
At the turn of the year, with Sturridge restored to the starting XI, Liverpool were back to their scintillating best. Sturridge was shooting with a success percentage of 21.2%, which meant opposition defenders and keepers had to always be on their toes. They went on an unbeaten run that lasted 14 games, during which Sturridge showed excellent versatility as he started a few games out wide when Brendan Rodgers experimented with a 433 set up. This run meant the title was back in their hands with five games to be played, two of which were against title contenders and former employers of Daniel Sturridge, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Liverpool passed the first test against City. However, they also saw Sturridge forced off with a hamstring problem, which meant he had to sit out the game against Norwich and was only able to come off the bench for the Chelsea game. It would be hard to if a fully fit Sturridge in the starting line-up would have won Liverpool the 3 points in that Chelsea game but Sturridge’s presence on the pitch for 90 minutes might have been enough for them to turn even a half-chance into a goal with his lethal left foot.
Suarez took home the golden boot and the PFA player of the year award, meaning Sturridge was left with nothing to show for his incredible performances. Injuries robbed him of a career milestone, and this would go on to become a recurring theme throughout his career. The repeated calf, thigh and hip issues meant that even when he was fit, he was never the same player. He’d lost his pace and his mobility, which were the critical assets to his playstyle, and naturally, his performances dropped in quality. Just like with Ronaldo Nazario and Michael Owen, we can only wonder what heights Sturridge could have reached had his career not been plagued by injuries. Regardless, his 13/14 campaign will always be a part of the history books, and no one can deny the fact that Daniel Sturridge was one of the best strikers on the planet that season.
Written by Nitish Brunth
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