How does Jurgen Klopp solve a problem like Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool?
For the best part of two seasons now the German has tried and failed to find an answer to the quandary of how to make his supposed star striker the focal point of his team without letting the rest of the side down.
At their best, the Reds function as a brilliantly fluid and multifaceted attacking unit with the quick-paced, penetrative runs of Sadio Mane coming in from the right, the genius and incisiveness of Philippe Coutinho down the left, Adam Lallana and Georginio Wijnaldum pushing on from deep and Roberto Firmino working hard up front.
The Brazilian may not be an orthodox choice to lead the line at a club whose history is filled with more traditional, heroic centre-forwards but he has proven to be highly effective. No other player has created more chances inside the opposition’s penalty area this season. Only Alexis Sanchez has crafted more opportunities in the box since August 2015.
Liverpool are almost unstoppable when all these components are fit and ready to press the opposition to destruction. They are the top scorers in the Premier League this season and top of the pile for chances created as a team. Yet when one of more of his key attackers is ruled out, Klopp’s system can struggle to even get going.
Due to his lack of compatibility, Sturridge can only make things worse when he should be the player to come in and make it come good.
The Reds still have a fight on their hands to claim a top four spot, and will end another season without silverware this campaign, handing ammunition to those who doubt the manager and what he is trying to create, but if they do secure Champions League football, who should they sign in the summer to pull ahead of the pack?
Fitting the profile
Liverpool need a hard-working attacker, one full of goals and intensity, that can bring their counter-pressing alive in the final third, either as a strike partner or alternative to Firmino.
The ideal candidate for the job would be Luis Suarez circa 2013/14. In 33 Premier League games for Liverpool that season the Uruguayan scored 31 goals and created 12 assists, making 1.40 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes.Fast forward to this season and Firmino has managed 11 goals and six assists in 32 games, making 2.34 tackles and interceptions per 90. Sadio Mane has 13 goals, five assists and 1.24 tackles and interceptions per 90 in 27 matches.
Compare that to Sturridge: just 0.15 tackles and interceptions per 90 with two goals and an assist from 16 appearances, 11 of which have come off the bench. Last season wasn’t much better. In 14 league games he managed eight goals and one assist and 0.64 tackles and interceptions per 90.
A glance across Europe’s top five leagues for prolific scorers who work hard to press high and win back the ball reveals that no player can match Firmino’s rate for defensive actions, yet there are four players who could fit the bill, with the right balance between graft in the final third and an ability to find the back of the net.
Club: RB Leipzig
League goals: 17
League assists: five
Tackles and interceptions per 90: 1.64
Rated as one of the most promising young strikers in German football, the 21-year-old is already a full international and is back in the Bundesliga this season after taking the decision to join RB Leipzig following the relegation of his club, VfB Stuttgart.
Werner is one of the players who embodies the Red Bull-backed team’s approach on the field. He is fast, industrious and dynamic, on and off the ball. He may not be able to match Firmino for tackles and interceptions per 90 but he puts Sturridge’s returns to shame, while offering a similar sort of threat to get behind defences like the Englishman.
Key stat: Werner has scored more goals from a fast break (or counter-attack) than any other players across Europe’s top five leagues this season, with six. Borussia Dortmund striker, and former Klopp favourite, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, is second to the German with four.
League goals: 25
League assists: four
Tackles and interceptions per 90: 1.30
Even if Belotti is unable to keep up his incredible rate of goals for Torino this season, the Italian, also linked with Manchester United, has shown he is more a player boasting more than just a high conversion rate this season.
He is a striker capable of scoring in every which way. Breaking down his ongoing tally of 25 league goals only helps to highlight the variety he offers as a finisher: 10 have come from his right foot, another 10 with his head and five off his left foot.
Torino have already slapped a seriously large release clause of £84m, making him a prohibitively expensive purchase for Liverpool, but there’s no doubting he has the right attributes for Klopp, even if it would take a budget-busting bid to land him in the summer.
Key stat: Belotti has scored more goals with his head – 10 – than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues. Impressive for a player measuring up at five-foot-eleven. He is also fifth for goals from big chances, with 18. Only Manchester City have created more big chances in the Premier League this season.
Club: Olympique Lyonnais
League goals: 24
League assists: two
Tackles and interceptions per 90: 1.08
A long-term target for Arsenal, perhaps Liverpool should finally make the move Arsene Wenger could never quite bring himself to sign off on and take a punt on one of the most consistent strikers in French football?
Lacazette has scored 72 goals in 94 Ligue 1 games over the past three seasons – a tally set to rise even higher before the end of the current campaign.
Still just 25, the Frenchman is yet to reach his peak years and could offer his best years to Liverpool if they move quick. If he continues to dispatch goals at this rate, he won’t be left on the shelf for much longer.
Key stat: Only Edinson Cavani (28) and Aubameyang (21) have scored more goals from big chances this season across Europe’s top five leagues than Lacazette (20). The Lyon man has also completed 70% of his take ons.
Not the hardest working striker but he could be as lethal leading the front of Klopp’s attack as Aubemeyang, another speedy finisher plucked from Ligue 1 to replace Robert Lewandowski while the German was still manager of Dortmund.