Is Daniel Sturridge about to play his final game for Liverpool?

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Daniel Sturridges fitness record is such that his Liverpool future will not be assured even if he has a decisive role in their beating Middlesbrough and sealing a Champions League place

Daniel Sturridge produced a performance at West Ham United last weekend that edged Liverpool closer to their aim of Champions League qualification and provoked the reactions that seem destined to characterise his Anfield career: admiration and regret. Against Middlesbrough on Sunday he has another, possibly final, opportunity to tilt judgment towards the former.

The England international had regained Jrgen Klopps trust before producing a timely, telling reminder of his quality at the London Stadium, his manager claimed. His opening goal in the 4-0 victory, allied to his movement and menace, helped turn a pressure situation into a stroll for Liverpool. Three points against relegated Middlesbrough and a top-four finish is secure.

A fit and sharp Sturridge, with his unerring ability to deliver when it matters, offers reassurance to Liverpool amid the pre-match anxiety that stems from going three home games without a win since Sadio Man hobbled out of the Merseyside derby on 1 April and toils against the lower teams of the Premier League all year. But even a decisive role in sealing Liverpools place in the Champions League for the second time in eight seasons would not bring assurances over the 27-year-olds future at the club.

Of course, said Klopp, when asked in an interview this week whether Sturridge had a future at Anfield. Then came the proviso. A fit Sturridge is an unbelievable player, he continued. Thats a pity of the situation, [its] not often enough. But hes now fit, spot on, trained two or three weeks.

Sturridges fitness problems are as well established as his excellence in front of goal and his performance at West Ham, while welcome for Klopp, does not alter the long-term thinking of a club and manager with designs on trophies and progress next season.

There is resignation whenever the striker is unavailable but his record is worth revisiting. Should he retain his place against Middlesbrough, which appears likely given his form and with Roberto Firmino unable to train with the team this week because of muscle fatigue, it will be the first time since September that Sturridge has started successive Premier League games. The last time he started a league game at Anfield was in October against Manchester United. Over the past three Premier League seasons he has started 24 of 113 games for Liverpool, scoring 15 league goals, and has averaged 19.5 league appearances per season since arriving from Chelsea in January 2013.

Against that backdrop Sturridges overall goal return is outstanding 60 in 118 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions, 46 in 88 in the Premier League and supports those who argue he is worth retaining as a back-up option. His contract provides another string to the counterargument. Sturridge is one of Liverpools highest-paid players on 150,000 a weekand under contract until 2019. That is 15.6m coming out of Liverpools accounts over the next two years on a player who features, on average, for a fraction over half a Premier League campaign.

There are no personal issues between Sturridge and Klopp, who regales tales of the strikers exploits on the training ground with genuine awe but has the same, understandable frustrations over the players fitness as Brendan Rodgers did before him.

That near miss in the 2013-14 title race remains the high point of Sturridges Liverpool career when he scored 24 goals in 33 games and was part of a formidable attack featuring Luis Surez. Jordan Henderson recounted this week how Surez, his ankle swollen at half-time in one game, requested a bigger boot for the second half and went on to score a stunning free-kick. There is a view at Anfield that the competitive rivalry that existed between the Uruguayan and Sturridge also spurred the latter to push himself through the pain barrier but that this may have diminished since Surez departed for Barcelona.

Compelling reasons exist on Liverpools side for a parting of the ways this summer but the club still requires receipt of a tempting offer to sell. Arguably the more persuasive reason why Middlesbrough could represent Sturridges final game for Liverpool comes from the perspective of the player.

Despite being hindered by a persistent hip problem in recent months Sturridge has been available for 26 of Liverpools 37 league games this season but started only six. Klopp favours Firmino for his pressing game and Divock Origi has been deployed more often than Sturridge when the manager has sought an alternative. Liverpool will be in the market for a top striker this summer regardless of Sundays outcome and, along with the rest of Europes wealthiest clubs, admire Monacos teenage sensation Kylian Mbapp. There is a considerable distance between admiring and signing, of course.

The Champions League is a wonderful competition for different reasons, Klopp said on Friday. You can earn a lot of money there thats money we didnt have last year and that is one part of it but we are already in a good position. We are a club without financial problems and we have money to spend but it makes sense to think before we spend and that is what we are doing.

The prospect of falling further down the pecking order at Liverpool should not be acceptable to a striker of Sturridges ability, especially with a World Cup on next seasons horizon. Another demonstration against Middlesbrough of what could have been, however, will be gratefully received by all at Anfield.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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