Liverpool must keep Daniel Sturridge to add depth as a No. 9
It is widely assumed that Liverpool will part company with Daniel Sturridge this summer and accept anything they can get for him just to remove his salary from the books. It is becoming increasingly clear that such a move would be a mistake, particularly with Danny Ings expected to move on any day now.
Sturridge has looked sharp so far in preseason and hasn't missed a session, though that should not really influence any decision on his future. Frankly, it means nothing. It is what others do that should determine whether the Reds keep Sturridge, and on the evidence of the three friendlies we've seen so far, it doesn't appear that Sturridge has anything to worry about.
Let's be clear: Sturridge's body will break down sooner or later. It does every year, usually more than once. It isn't a matter of if he will be sidelined, it's a matter of when and for how long. It might be next week, it might be next month. If Liverpool are really lucky, it might not be until the month after, but Sturridge, who turns 29 in September, will eventually pick up an injury.
This is why supporters have long since resigned themselves to the idea of offloading the talented frontman. Circumstances change, though, and if Ings departs, the best course of action for Jurgen Klopp might be to keep Sturridge around a little while longer. Even if he is only available for half a season, which seems to be the norm, that looks to be better than a full season of any of the current alternatives. Dominic Solanke might disprove that, but he might be better served playing regular football away on loan this year instead.
There will be clubs willing to take Sturridge, but none will pay anything like what a player of his ability is worth. It's debatable whether clubs will be prepared to pay any kind of fee at all given the certainty of injury and the inflated wages involved.
If Liverpool were blessed with top-flight-proven alternatives, it wouldn't matter what kind of fee they received for Sturridge. They could give him away and it would still make financial sense just to get his £150,000 a week off the books.
With Ings understandably wanting to leave for regular football, that leaves Sturridge (despite his fitness issues) as the clear No. 1 option to back up Roberto Firmino.
Divock Origi enjoyed a spell of great form at the tail end of the 2015-16 season, but that was as good as it got for him. He had a brief run of good goal-scoring form the following season, but the goals masked the fact he wasn't really providing anything else.
Last summer he fell behind Ings and Solanke and had to go out on loan. In a blog last week discussing Harry Wilson, I suggested that a good way for clubs to assess their loan players is to ask: "If he wasn't our player, would we be interested in signing him?"
No top club would be looking at Origi based on his underwhelming spell at Wolfsburg. Put bluntly, if he wasn't already Liverpool's player, they wouldn't want him. The Belgian needs a big preseason to prove that he has something to offer, but in the three fixtures he's featured in so far he's done the opposite.
Origi, 23, looks as though he's got everything he needs to be a top-class forward, but for whatever reason he can't put it all together and he seems to be stagnating rather than improving. Four years ago he was starting games for Belgium at the World Cup. This year he was firing blanks in a preseason game at Bury while his national side were beating England to claim third place.
As for Solanke, the 20-year-old has shown flashes of promise but managed just one goal last season and is in that difficult in-between stage that a lot of young players on the fringes at top clubs find themselves in.
He has big potential, but asking him to come in for Firmino without there being a significant drop-off in quality is unrealistic. Perhaps in a year or two he might be ready for that, but not if he spends the next 12 months sat on the bench. Young players need to play to reach their potential, but clubs challenging for honours can't provide them with the playing time they need.
Klopp convinced Solanke to sign for the Reds by showing him that there was a clear path to the first team. This is also how he persuaded 18-year-old prodigy Rhian Brewster to sign a new contract despite significant interest in him from all over Europe.
Klopp is a man of his word so is therefore unlikely to go out and sign a big-money, high-profile No. 9 to block the path of Solanke and Brewster. There's also the added complication that Firmino is an automatic starter and hardly ever misses a game. Whoever comes in is going to be an understudy, and that's not an easy sales pitch to make to top players.
The arrival of Xherdan Shaqiri at least frees up Mohamed Salah to occasionally fill in for Firmino in the centre, but Klopp will need more cover than that if Liverpool are to compete on all fronts.
Sturridge is not the player he once was and injuries have taken a toll on him, but ask yourself this: Who would you rather have coming off the bench when you need a goal: Sturridge, Origi, Solanke or Brewster?
Klopp said last week that signing Shaqiri was a "no-brainer." Unless Klopp has plans to sign another forward, with Ings likely to move on, keeping Sturridge also falls into that category.