Pitchside

Sturridge, not Suarez, is Liverpool’s big-game player

Pitchside

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Daniel Sturridge is set to return for Liverpool’s title showdown with Chelsea – and his timing could not have been better.

Sturridge missed Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Norwich, but he should line up for the big match against Chelsea: victory would al-but guarantee Liverpool the Premier League, but a win for Chelsea would throw it wide open for the Blues and Manchester City.

Luis Suarez, who has bagged 30 goals this campaign and a shoo-in for all the end-of-season awards, is widely regarded as being Liverpool’s best player.

But, as our friends from football data specialists 21st Club have worked out, strike partner Sturridge has actually been more valuable this season.

First Suarez. In addition to being ridiculously exiting to watch, he has scored more goals than Sturridge, 30 to 20 in the league go far; the Uruguayan also finds the net more frequently when you take into account time on the pitch, with a goal every 90 minutes to the Englishman’s 103.5.

But Sturridge has scored a significantly higher proportion of his goals against the big teams, netting 20% of his tally against sides in the top six at the time of the match, compared to Suarez’s 16.7%.

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That’s not the only pointer towards Sturridge being the big-game player – at the time of writing, the average position of teams he has scored against is 10.95 in the table, with Suarez shining against the struggling sides (13.77).

Furthermore, there is evidence that Suarez has a tendency to load his goals up in matches Liverpool are winning comfortably – if you subtract the goals each forward has bagged from the final scorelines, Sturridge has earned 18 points from his 20 strikes, while Suarez has managed 15 from his 30.

That's right, Sturridge has earned Liverpool more points than Suarez, despite having played fewer minutes (2070 to 2692)

And the final indicator of Sturridge’s importance in Liverpool’s title run-in can be found in how he reacts to adversity: five of his 20 goals have come when Liverpool had fallen behind in a match; Suarez has only scored once when the Reds were down.

It would be harsh to call Suarez a flat-track bully – he sometimes operates deeper in the tight games, choosing to run at players and feed his strike partner – but it does seem that Sturridge is hugely underrated, as mentally is the real hero of Liverpool’s title challenge, flourishing under pressure.

That also bodes well for the World Cup, with increasing evidence suggesting he and not Wayne Rooney should be England’s central striker.

And it also bodes well for Liverpool - good thing he’s back for the Chelsea game, then…

Contextual Intelligence from 21st Club

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