Jurgen Klopp is ready to unleash Daniel Sturridge when Liverpool entertain Stoke City in the Premier League on Sunday.
The England striker was controversially left out of the starting XI for the Reds’ 1-1 draw at Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final on Thursday.
The decision paid off, with Divock Origi netting Liverpool’s away goal as Sturridge only came on for the final six minutes, but the manager thinks his team will see the benefit against Mark Hughes’ men, while also praising the Belgium international.
“We thought it would make sense to start with Divock [against Dortmund] – it’s nothing about Daniel,” Klopp said to the club’s official website.
“Daniel played the last few games. It’s completely normal, a completely normal thing in football. Now he is fresh and can play against Stoke – that’s good for us.
“He came in and immediately had a brilliant moment. You could see how strong he is in one second. Nobody can say what would have happened if we had started with Daniel, maybe we would have been better, I don’t know. But it was a decision and it was not too brave.
“Divock played well. He has had no rhythm in the season, how could he have? He always had a little injury here, a little injury there. Remember the Leicester game – he was outstanding and then out for four weeks. He is a young lad, we have to carry on and work with him.”
Liverpool have followed up a three-match league winning streak with a defeat at Southampton and draw at home to Tottenham, leaving them ninth – although they have two games in hand on the Saints and Stoke, who are both two points ahead.
Captain Jordan Henderson (knee) is out for up to eight weeks for the Reds, who will assess the fitness of Lucas Leiva (thigh) and Christian Benteke (knee).
Stoke have Ryan Shawcross (back) in contention again, but Marko Arnautovic (knee) is a doubt. Glenn Whelan (back) will be checked ahead of the game, while the match has come too soon for Marc Wilson (knee).
Hughes has been thrilled with Stoke’s improvement away from home – with 23 of their 47 points having been picked up on the road – and hopes to get as close as possible to a European spot.
He said: “Six away wins is the most we have ever had in the Premier League so we are delighted with that. In my first season here we struggled away from home, so we have performed significantly [better] since then.
“We are equipped to perform well on the road and we have shown that this season. Hopefully we can continue the good work away from home on Sunday.
“We believe we can go there and claim the three points. Now we just need to go there and perform to the level we know we are capable of. We will have no apprehension and will go there and be confident in what we are planning to do.
“Europe has always been a target of ours. If we miss out this year then we will have another real go next year. We are aspiring to become a club who challenge for European positions year in year out.
“A lot of clubs around us have similar ambitions – with three of those teams coming up over the course of the next few weeks.
“The last time we won at Anfield in the league was 57 years ago when the fixture was moved because of the Grand National. Maybe that is a good omen for us.”
Key Opta stats:
– Liverpool have won four of their last five meetings against Stoke City, with the other game being a 6-1 loss on the final day of last season.
– Stoke’s 1-0 win against Liverpool in the League Cup semi-final second leg in January ended a run of 36 games without winning at Anfield (D5 L31). However, they went out of the competition on penalties.
– Each of the three meetings this season between the two sides has ended 1-0 to the away team.
– Daniel Sturridge has scored three times and assisted three goals in six Premier League games against Stoke.
– With seven goals and five assists in the league this season, Philippe Coutinho has already matched his best-ever goal involvement tally in a single campaign (also 12 in 2013-14).
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