By Séamus Leonard
The delight of Liverpool fans at the form of striker Daniel Sturridge has always been tempered by the knowledge that the England international has a history of injury problems. Indeed, since Sturridge joined from Chelsea last January the 24-year-old has missed games through ankle and thigh problems. Even when the Birmingham native was netting crucial goals in 1-0 victories at the start of this season, he was doing so at less than 100% fitness.
So, it was hardly a shock when the news emerged on Friday that the Liverpool attacker had left training on crutches after injuring his left ankle. He is almost certainly out of Sunday’s game at Hull, and there are fears that the former Chelsea man is facing a prolonged spell on the sidelines. The club itself has remained tight-lipped on the matter, merely saying the player will be assessed after “rolling” his ankle.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers left Sturridge on the bench for the first 79 minutes of last weekend’s epic 3-3 Merseyside derby draw with Everton. The Reds’ number 15 salvaged a point with his late headed equalizer, but that goalscoring cameo did not save Sturridge from a stern rebuke from Rodgers. The Northern Irishman had every right to be annoyed. Sturridge went away on international duty with a thigh problem, and yet he was kept on the pitch for 90 minutes in England’s friendly against Germany. He was unable to train properly when he returned to Melwood and so Rodgers deemed the striker was not in a position to be considered for a starting place.
Whether his exertions at Wembley played any part in Sturridge’s latest injury, we’ll probably never know. But we can be sure that playing the full 90 in a meaningless friendly while carrying a knock would not have helped a player with such an injury-plagued past. Almost three years since getting the sack as manager of Liverpool, Roy Hodgson remains a malignant influence on the fortunes of the club.
The upshot of Sturridge’s likely absence will be the placing of even more expectation on striker Luis Suarez to produce the goods up front. Striker Iago Aspas is back training after his thigh problems, and he may come back into the reckoning sooner than was anticipated due to the unforeseen circumstances. And Sturridge’s misfortune may also open the door to Victor Moses to nail down a regular starting spot. The Nigeria international has voiced his desire to see more action, and Rodgers could opt to select the on-loan attacker on the left flank. Alternatively, he could decide to stick with the 11 players who started at Goodison Park. That would mean a reprieve for Joe Allen, who should have given the Reds a 3-1 lead just before the hour mark but somehow contrived to miss from 12 yards having sent Toffees’ goalkeeper Tim Howard the wrong way. While that error received much criticism, the Wales international had impressed on his return to action and Rodgers may feel it is important to keep faith with the midfielder so as not to further damage his already dented confidence.
Defender Jon Flanagan is almost certain to retain his place at left-back after an exceptional performance in the derby last Saturday. With Jose Enrique out for three months after knee surgery and Aly Cissokho yet to convince, there is a great opportunity for Flanagan to establish himself in the first team. To do do, however, he must heed the advice of Rodgers and not become complacent after his heroics at Goodison.
While Hull has readjusted well to life in the Premier League after its promotion from the Championship under the guidance of manager Steve Bruce, last weekend’s loss at home to struggling Crystal Palace was a blow to the Humbersiders. Bruce will also have to cope with the absence of some of his key players. The most notable absentee will be Robbie Brady (groin). The Republic of Ireland international has impressed since his transfer from Manchester United, and is his club’s top scorer with three league goals to date.
With Liverpool slated to play three Premier League games in six days (Norwich and West Ham will visit Anfield next Wednesday and Saturday respectively), a win at the KC is essential to keep the Reds in touch with pace-setters Arsenal and ahead of the chasing pack. A performance anywhere near what was produced in that classic encounter last weekend would surely be enough to tame the Tigers.
Hull City v Liverpool
When: Sunday, December 1, 0905 EST/1405 GMT
Where: KC Stadium, Hull
Previous Premier League match: Hull City 0-1 Crystal Palace, Everton 3-3 Liverpool
League Position 2013-14: Hull City 13th (14 points), Liverpool 2nd (24 points)
Projected Hull Starting 11
DEF: Elmohamady, Bruce, Davies, Figueroa
MID: Koren, Meyler, Huddlestone, Livermore, Boyd
Subs from: Harper, Faye, Rosenior, Proschwitz, Gedo, Chester, Nagy, Graham
Projected Liverpool Starting 11
DEF: Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Flanagan
MID: Henderson, Lucas, Gerrard, Allen, Coutinho
Subs from: Jones, Kelly, Sakho, Toure, Cissokho, Ilori, Luis Alberto, Ibe, Sterling, Aspas
Follow Séamus Leonard on Twitter @seamusleonard