Bournemouth 1 Liverpool 2
Daniel Sturridge provided the perfect response to being dropped, but his outstanding performance at Bournemouth may not be enough to secure his starting spot in Wednesday’s Merseyside derby.
For the second time in two weeks, the striker was recalled to the Premier League starting line-up having been overlooked in favour of Divock Origi for a midweek Europa League clash.
And just as he had against Stoke City, Sturridge responded with a goal and display that raised fresh questions about Jurgen Klopp’s decision to keep the striker on the sidelines.
There are also bigger questions surrounding Sturridge at the moment, in particular whether he has a long-term future at Anfield with the German at the helm.
The manager is clearly concerned by the player’s fitness and there is no doubt Sturridge has endured another injury-scarred season that has forced him to spend regular periods in the treatment room.
But this kind of display — the striker set up Roberto Firmino for the opening goal, added the second, and struck the woodwork twice before Joshua King replied for the hosts in added time — underlined his value to Klopp’s squad.
At his best, Sturridge is clearly a huge asset to club and country and England coach Roy Hodgson will have been particularly pleased to learn one of his prized assets started a fourth successive Premier League game for the first time in two years.
But Sturridge needs to prove he can be a part of Klopp’s plan to impose the kind of high-energy game that helped Liverpool edge past Borussia Dortmund and into the semi-finals of the Europa League. On this evidence, he is moving in the right direction but Klopp, who is clearly growing frustrated at the focus placed on Sturridge, warned none of his players can be assured of their place ahead of Wednesday’s meeting with Everton at Anfield.
“Yes, he gave the response I wanted,” said Klopp.
“He really is in really good shape, mental-wise and physical-wise it’s really good, and for us so important, because, for example, Roberto Firmino now has a (injury) problem.”
But the manager added: “Nobody is undroppable. I never look at any player and think ‘I can’t leave him out.’ As a manager I decide if I play with one, two, three, or four strikers.” Adding: “This is a game with 11 players. Each had an influence today.”
None had quite the influence of Sturridge who ensured an unfamiliar looking Liverpool side avoided the familiar pattern of struggling in the wake of a draining Thursday night European game.
Klopp made 10 changes and brought in a clutch of youngsters led by Danny Ward in goal who had a fine Premier League debut.
Brad Smith, Connor Randall, Sheyi Ojo, and Kevin Stewart also stepped in impressively although the opening stages suggested the new look line-up would take time to settle.
After early home pressure, Liverpool came into the game with Joe Allen and Jordon Ibe growing in influence and Ibe helped set up the opening goal with a run into the Bournemouth box before finding Sturridge.
With his back to goal and eight yards out, the striker surprised the home defence with a back-heeled shot that ‘keeper Artur Boruc did well to parry, only for Firmino to follow up from close range in the 41st minute.
Sturridge then headed the second, rising above the Bournemouth defence to head home from Ibe’s cross in firsthalf added time.
Bournemouth improved as the second half wore on but Ward responded with a succession of fine saves before King struck from 18 yards in the final moments. “We didn’t put enough pressure on them,” said Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe. “I don’t think we can say we deserved anything from the game. You have to give Liverpool credit.”
BOURNEMOUTH (4-4-1-1): Boruc 6: Francis 6, Cook 6, Elphick 5, Daniels 6, Ritchie 6 (Wilson 76), Surman 6, Gosling 5, Gradel 5 (Pugh 59 7); Stanislas 5 (Grabban 46 6); King 7.
Subs not used: Federici, Wilson, MacDonald, Wiggins, O’Kane.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Ward 8, Randall 7, Toure 7 (Sakho 66 7), Lucas 7, Smith 6; Allen 7, Stewart 7; Ibe 8 (Lallana 77), Firmino 7 (Origi 75), Ojo 7, Sturridge 9.
Subs not used: Mignolet, Milner, Coutinho, Flanagan.
Referee: Mike Jones.
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