I buy the Times on occasion (not for political reasons, or an endorsement of Rupert Murdoch's empire: I like some of the puzzles) and this Thursday there was an interesting small analysis piece on Daniel Sturridge written by Rory Smith. What drew my attention was the general intention of the article to depict Sturridge as being “short of confidence”. It went on to criticise Sturridge's efforts against Blackburn citing amongst other things “poor choices”, being “unsure of his instincts” (?) and that his “energy [was] wayward and incoherent.”(??). Nope, me neither.
He also “looked a shadow of the prolific goalscorer who terrorised defenses last season.” Okay, maybe he didn't have his best game? What else? “The less confidence Sturridge has, the more he seems to retreat into cockiness” and “[he] takes too many touches, slipping the ball under his feet, throwing dummies and feints, a desperate dance designed, perhaps [!], to convince him[self] of his own qualities.” This latter section is a knowingly counter-intuitive argument and one which surely doesn't hold firm. Even without getting into the stats (we will) Sturridge has never seemed a man needing a shot of confidence to effect positive endeavour.
What does Daniel Sturridge do?
I'm pretty happy to declare that Daniel Sturridge is two things:
1. An elite level striker
2. Injury prone
The elite level striker angle is easy to prove: his entire career he's consistently averaged four or five shots a game and mapping back even through his “kid learning the ropes” stages he averages over 0.6 goals per game. He's a pure striker, a darn good one and has always been so. More fool Chelsea for selling him when they did. But... His injury record stinks. He's been involved in professional football since a young age and has participated in seven seasons. He was back-up or a rotational player in the early years but still, the guy is 25 years old and has never played more than 2/3 of a season.
So, a familiar storyline of injury and absence and he reaches mid-April with only 750 league minutes to his name. He “struggles to recapture top form” and has “only scored four goals since returning from several injuries.” This seems like a fair argument if you blindly consider four to be a small number but if we pull up some shot and goal numbers, we can see that perceived problems may well be smaller than is being suggested: I've highlighted two sections particularly to make the point. With data stretching over nearly 8000 minutes from 2009 to 2015 we have as near as we can get to career rates and despite it being a small sample in 2015 (he has only played 480 league minutes since returning from many months injured) we can also take a look at what he's doing since coming back into the team. I have also put in this season's cumulative rate and his entire Liverpool career by way of contrast.
What can we see?
- His career shot rate is 4.38, his Liverpool rate is similar and he's recently above that level.
- Whilst he is lacking in recent six yard box activity (“poaching”) his rate of penalty area shots to out of box shots has increased over time, and is currently high.
- His on target rate is incredibly consistent across his whole career.
- He has always and continues to takes all kinds of shot at similar rates (left foot, right, header).
- His Key Pass rate is consistent throughout.
- His Liverpool conversion rate is very high overall but has dropped back this season. Multiple studies have shown that conversion rates have poor levels of repeatability so change here cannot be solely attributed to anything apart from random variation. He had been running extremely hot in this measure over the season and a half he'd been at Liverpool, much like Giroud, Costa or Kane are this season and a cooling off is not significant in itself.
- His goal rate is a fraction beneath his career rate and 0.20 goals per 90 below his very high overall Liverpool rate.
Alright so; shots wise, he's just dandy, goal-wise he's a little off. Well, again I can point to the small sample and suggest there is little cause for concern. Given the time he has been on the pitch, one or two more goals would have covered the conversion and goal per 90 deficits shown. That's it. If you are to posit that Daniel Sturridge is out of form or “short of confidence” then effectively you are suggesting that he has reached this negative mindset via the method of missing one or two goal scoring chances. And if I want to give Sturridge a break I really could. I can identify three simple factors which could have impacted on his production in 2015:
1. He is playing in an unfamiliar formation (3-4-3), adaptation could take time.
2. He has just returned from a series of injuries and so may need time to gain full match sharpness.
3. He is no longer playing alongside one of the most devastating attacking players in the world, the dervish-like Luis Suarez.
Despite these factors, his personal contribution to Liverpool when in the team is solid in relation to his career and once more consistent. I don't see self-concern in Daniel Sturridge's performances and I suspect that over time it will be seen that it was an extremely strange deduction to make. The answer to the question posed in the title is simple: if fit, not a lot. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Thanks for reading!
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