Perth Glory sent the Australian Football sphere into mayhem last week with the announcement that former Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge will be heading down-under this season.
The Englishman’s arrival – arguably the biggest transfer in A-League history since Alessandro Del Piero – has very quickly sparked conversation over Perth’s prospects for this season.
With Sturridge expected to be available for Perth’s opening game of the season against Adelaide United, Kick360 brings you an outline of the forward’s skillset and how Perth may look to get the most out of him in the side.
What Sturridge Brings:
Despite featuring in several attacking roles throughout his career, Sturridge has always seen himself as a striker. The chances he was given as a youngster breaking through at Manchester City predominantly saw him occupy a spot on the wings, and this trend continued throughout his time at Chelsea from 2009-2013.
Former blues boss André Villas-Boas preferred Sturridge at right wing due to his “technique at pace”, with the then 22-year-old bagging 11 goals and four assists in 28 Premier League starts from right wing in 2011/12.
However, it was Brendan Rodgers who was able to get the most out of Sturridge almost immediately following a switch to Liverpool in January, 2013. The Welsh coach moved Sturridge into a central position that he dubbed a “nine-and-a-half”, allowing him to drop out wide and in between the lines to stretch defences and create from deeper.
It proved an inspired change as Sturridge would go on to form a deadly partnership with Uruguayan forward Luis Suárez, scoring 22 and assisting nine as the Reds came within touching distance of the Premier League title in 2013/14.
To say Sturridge hit his peak seven years ago sounds harsh, but his injuries have become more serious and frequent since his first major injury in late 2012.
The striker suffered from seven separate injuries during his last full season of club football at Trabzonspor, restricting him to just 11 appearances in the Turkish Süper Lig.
Regardless of fitness, Sturridge’s playing style has largely remained the same since joining Liverpool. SofaScore’s positional heatmap for Sturridge for the 2015/16 season highlights his tendency to drop into the right inside channels to pick up the ball in front of the penalty box.
In his first two years under Jürgen Klopp, Sturridge clocked up an average of 4.73 dribbles and 6.89 forward passes per match from these positions, looking for quick one-twos and dragging defenders wide to take them on outside the box before bursting into scoring positions to fire off 4.05 shots per match with an average accuracy of 50.55%.
Even in an injury-hit season with Trabzonspor, Sturridge contributed four goals and three assists when available. His time in Turkey was cut short in March 2020, with Trabzonspor terminating his contract after he was found to have breached betting rules in July 2019.
Despite reported interest from a number of MLS clubs (including David Beckham’s Inter Miami) and a brief stint training with La Liga side RCD Mallorca, Sturridge remained a free agent until Perth Glory offered the Englishman a chance to get his career back on track.
Perth Glory: A Quick Recap
Richard Garcia has experimented with a variety of formations, but preferred a 4-4-2 at the beginning of last season. Blessed with an arsenal of high-profile attacking talent (even before Sturridge joined), the focus for the Glory was always on getting the attacking players to function cohesively on the pitch.
Andy Keogh and Bruno Fornaroli would play in tandem as strikers, with the former making a nuisance of himself to opposition centre-backs and the later dropping off to receive the ball in space. Diego Castro primarily featured on the left side of the midfield four, with Daniel Stynes, Carlo Armiento, Nicholas D’Agostino and Ciaran Bramwell filling in the gaps out wide or up front if needed.
With Perth stuck in tenth for most of the season, Garcia switched to a 3-4-1-2 prior to a home match against Melbourne Victory in May. While ultimately not enough to secure them a place in the top six, the Glory would lose just one of their last eight games, picking up 15 points out of a possible 24.
The change of formation saw the likes of Joel Chianese and Chris Ikonomidis, typically more ‘traditional’ wingers, play as wing-backs. This allowed for increased threat from wide areas, however it did expose some defensive frailties out of possession.
Several goals copped by the Glory since their formation change have come from their wing-backs being out of position and caught out by either a ball over the top or through a pinpoint pass into the space between them and one of the three centre-backs.
Diego Castro moved into a number 10 role, afforded the freedom to drift wide or drop in line with the likes of Callum Timmins in holding midfield. The Spaniard amassed 8.44 progressive passes and 8.66 dribbles per match last season, and was heavily relied on to get the ball into promising positions or out wide to the wing-backs.
Outside of Castro, the Glory struggled to progress the ball from midfield as Neil Kilkenny was phased out of the side. Darryl Lachman would often carry the ball from defence into space looking for a forward pass, while Jason Geria was an outlet to hit long balls towards one of Keogh or Fornaroli.
Garcia will most likely stick with three at the back for the upcoming season, whether in a 3-1-4-2 or in a 3-4-3 as seen towards the end of last season. We’ll now go over how Sturridge will fit into that side – or rather how it will fit around him.
Putting the Pieces Together
Perth payed the ultimate sacrifice to secure Sturridge as a marquee signing. With all slots for international players filled in the squad, no space was left for Diego Castro to sign on for another season.
At the time of writing, there don’t appear to be many players capable of fulfilling Castro’s role as connective tissue between the midfield and attack for the Glory. Fellow newcomer Adrián Sardinero typically occupies positions further up the pitch as either a striker or a more orthodox winger.
This once again leaves the Glory squad stacked with high-level forwards, who would be expected to start every week at most other A-League clubs, scrapping for a limited number of positions. As was the case at many points last season, the way to cram all of these players onto the pitch while maintaining a somewhat balanced side appears to be a 3-4-1-2 for Garcia.
Although not his most ideal position, Fornaroli tended to go deep searching for the ball last season, looking for bounce-passes and opportunities to spin a defender. The Uruguayan’s 25.2 passes per game (with 88.3% accuracy) were noticeably high for a striker, and he even chipped in with five assists alongside his 13 goals last season.
For Sturridge, working with a Uruguayan forward who can adeptly score and create may feel like déjà vu, and the two may prove a handful for opposition defences with their movement and quick, penetrative play in the attacking third.
Alternatively, Perth could line up in a 3-4-3, with Sturridge starting on the right side of the front three. This would see Keogh drop to the bench for Sardinero, who would pull wide-left as Fornaroli moves into a central striking role.
Garcia comes into the new season with a wealth of options out wide, with new signings Jack Clisby and Pacifique Niyongabire starting in both wing-back slots in the most recent pre-season fixture against the Western Australia State Team.
These two offer completely different skill sets and give the Glory significant tactical variation, whether as starters or bench options. Clisby is defensively sound and conservative – more used to playing left-back in a back four – while Niyongabire is more of a threat going forward, boasting 9.29 dribbles per match and notching up three assists last season.
With Sturridge drifting in-field from the right wing, this would drag defenders away from Niyongabire and afford him the space on the right flank to beat a man or put in a cross.
Fornaroli would likely make a run towards the near post, Sturridge would make a late run towards the edge of the box or the penalty spot, and Sardinero would likely pop up at the back post. To compensate, Aaron Calver would push up to cover the space left by Niyongabire and Clisby would tuck in to form a back four.
This shape would resemble a 4-4-2, the formation that Garcia’s men typically fall into out of possession. Sturridge and Fornaroli would remain as the two up top in a mid-press.
Perth played a range of formations based on player availability last season, and Garcia won’t be afraid to change again if things aren’t working. Should he remain fit, Sturridge will be an integral player regardless of formation, having played a number of roles throughout his distinguished Premier League career.
The Englishman offers quite a different skill set to Castro but will be a persistent goal threat for the Glory, whether he’s drifting wide-right to facilitate attacks or bursting into the box himself.
Even with a new cast of players, it’s unlikely that Perth’s playing style will differ too much from last season. Regardless, the chance to see Sturridge will do wonders in filling up seats at HBF Park.
All player statistics obtained from Wyscout. Player Heat Maps obtained from SofaScore.
Image Supplied: Getty