By Simon Evans
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) – Daniel Sturridge’s Liverpool career seemed to be heading for a premature end last season but the striker showed on Tuesday he may yet have an important role after taking his chance during a rare start in the Champions League win over Paris St Germain.
Brazilian Roberto Firmino was left on the bench after suffering an eye injury in Saturday’s Premier League win at Tottenham Hotspur, allowing Sturridge to step into the side.
It was the 29-year-old’s first start in the competition for Liverpool and his first start in the Champions League since he was part of Chelsea’s title-winning team in 2012.
“It was a great performance from Daniel,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp after their opening Group C game.
“The three in midfield also (were great) but they can only do that when the front three play like they do and in that number nine position he (Sturridge) did. He was in the best shape physically since I’ve known him,” added the German.
The forward spent the latter half of last season on loan at West Bromwich Albion as they fought in vain against relegation from the Premier League and it was a surprise when he was reintegrated into Klopp’s side during pre-season.
The Liverpool manager had plenty of other striking options as back-up last season, but with Danny Ings having been loaned to Southampton and Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi injured, Sturridge was the only real choice to take Firmino’s place.
He responded by opening the scoring on the half-hour with a fine header and throughout the game Sturridge was a strong physical threat and effective link-up player.
Firmino had recovered enough to come of the bench and grab the added-time winner but Klopp was pleased with both forwards, especially as the Brazilian looked set to miss out completely.
“The day before yesterday (there) was no chance (for Firmino to play), and yesterday. We only had one session this morning with Bobby but it was time you have to show faith in your squad, it was nice to see Daniel tonight and he paid it back 100 percent. Then to be able to bring Bobby on after 70 minutes was nice,” he said.
Klopp was pleased with the way his side took the game to French champions Paris St Germain and dealt with their potent attacking trio of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.
“It was good, really good. It was difficult to defend but we did. All eleven players were involved in that. It was a strong performance and that was necessary. The atmosphere was fantastic, so special. It was nice.”
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)