This feature is part of Duology
All the world is a stage but Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge were more than merely players. In 2013/14, their only full season together, the two combined to produce sheer theatre of the sort rarely seen before on a football pitch – Suárez the anti-hero, Sturridge the flawed genius.
Ultimately it was not an Achilles Heel but an Achilles tendon that brought the latter down, while the Uruguayan left for Barcelona with not a Premier League winners medal hanging around his neck but yet another scandal hanging over him. It transpired that the campaign was destined, in the end, to be a Greek tragedy. However, though the partnership collapsed, the memories endure. Liverpool have seen some truly wonderful footballers throughout its long and illustrious history; Suárez and Sturridge can stake a claim amongst the best.
It is tempting, with hindsight, to diminish the impact of Sturridge in the whirlwind 2013/14 campaign. This would be to do a gross disservice both to Sturridge as an individual and to the near-telepathic connection that the two built up. Suárez, of course, is one of the most gifted forwards ever to grace a Premier League pitch, but without Sturridge, there would be no title charge about which to reminisce.
The English forward valiantly led the line alone, in Suárez’s enforced absence at the start of the campaign, scoring every goal in three consecutive 1-0 wins, clearly laying out his credentials as a world-class striker in his own right. His subsequent terrible injury luck has clouded the memory of many but make no mistake, the undisputed best English centre-forward at the time plied his trade at Anfield.
The results of throwing a volatile South American into the mix were predictably seismic. Each was equally capable of picking the other out or taking on their marker with consummate ease, and the movement was simply impossible to defend against. A visibly less-than-fit Suárez returned from his ban against Sunderland and managed to score two goals simply by virtue of getting on the end of Sturridge passes. Many frustrating minutes wasted out on the wing at Chelsea came to fruition in these moments, as Sturridge effortlessly drifted to the byline before instinctively picking out Suárez in the middle.
Despite having just half of the previous season to become acquainted, the pair seemed to intuitively occupy the same wavelength; an enviable gift indeed and defenders were certainly rarely able to enjoy similar premonitions as to what was coming next from either of them. Countless established defenders and goalkeepers were made to look foolish over the course of the season. There was little to be done when the pair descended upon a backline. Sure enough, while Sunderland were occupied with Suárez at the back post at a corner, Sturridge added a goal to his two assists in his team’s 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light. This particular two-man show proved to be a sign of things to come.
Much of the beauty of the partnership that came to be known as SAS was the way in which it harnessed a certain volatility to such deadly effect. The two strikers undeniably struck a chord, but it was at times a jarring one. Scoring was ostensibly the currency of both forwards and a kind of rivalry developed. If one decided to go up a level, the other instantly responded with a refusal to be outdone. A game against West Brom sticks particularly firmly in the mind.
Suárez had wrapped the result up almost on his own. He opened the scoring with a trademark winding run through the defence, followed by a powerful finish into the corner. The second was just as admirable; a fairly average cross meant that Suárez had to meet the ball at a near standstill but he somehow managed to generate enough power on his header to beat the goalkeeper. The hat-trick was completed with a second header, a delicate glance into the far post from a corner.
A visible change came over Sturridge as he upped his game, fuelled purely by pure goalscorer’s instinct. He’d not go without a share of the plaudits on a day when his partner had managed three. Sure enough, he found his way on to the scoresheet by upstaging all of Suárez’ strikes – he went on a powerful run of his own before lifting the ball delightfully over Ben Foster from 20 yards out. Cue the wriggly arms – an enduring image from Sturridge’s time at the pinnacle of the game. Few players would have even spotted the goalkeeper marginally off his line. The technique to execute the chip to perfection was simply outrageous and ensured that Sturridge shared the headlines.
That is not to say that the pair were selfish, or at least not overly so. They were undeniably single-minded, and would never pass up a goal when presented with the opportunity, but this is what made them so good. The reason these chances came along with such regularity in the first place is that Suárez and Sturridge developed a habit of laying them on for one another.
Many classic partnerships have had a playmaker and a finisher, or some variation on the big man, little man approach that so dominated the thinking of English coaches in the 1990s. Not these two. They were both complete forwards, equally adept at producing something out of nothing, and converting the chances when they came.
Indeed, the partnership that developed was almost transactional; an assist created more than a goal – it created a debt. It merited a response in kind, often an immediate one. In away matches at Stoke and Cardiff, in which Liverpool scored a combined 11 goals, Sturridge laid on goals for the Uruguayan only to be presented with tap-ins of his own later in the same games. Invariably, this would prompt a celebration almost as iconic as the aforementioned wriggly arms: Sturridge would turn and point at the provider, who would be pointing back at him with a look of unbridled joy etched across his face. The elation was about a goal for the team, of course, but beyond that, it was about the restoration of equilibrium between the strikers.
There was no such parity by the end of the season in terms of goal and assist tallies. Suárez ultimately found a level with which even Sturridge was not quite on par, finishing with an astounding 31 goals and 13 assists despite missing the start of the campaign. He was second only to Steven Gerrard in assists, and led the second-highest scorer by 10 clear goals. Who was this second-placed man? Daniel Sturridge, of course.
These statistics make it all the more remarkable that Liverpool didn’t win the league. It is a historical anomaly and one that does a disservice to a front two who are almost unrivalled across the entire Premier League era in their brilliance. Suárez had thrown absolutely everything he had into the campaign, and his tears after Crystal Palace were those of a man who had done everything within his power but still fallen short. Even before the unpleasant side of his utter single-mindedness reared its head at the World Cup, in the form of a bite on Giorgio Chiellini, a move away from Anfield seemed inevitable.
This same World Cup provided one fitting last act in the Suárez and Sturridge relationship. England were drawn in the same group as Uruguay, which meant that the two forwards who had thrived so much together would now have to do battle on the biggest stage. Again, this was almost irresistible theatre: the two men had just endured the pain of falling short in the Premier League together, and now it fell to one of them to inflict a final blow on the other.
It was Suárez who would emerge victorious, scoring twice to eliminate Sturridge and England from the competition. This final severance of the ever-unsteady bond between the two signified the end of a partnership that burned bright but ultimately burned out.
Sturridge remained at Liverpool in 2014/15 but a combination of misfortune with injuries and the club’s failure to adequately replace Suárez cruelly limited the influence he could exert. All that was left of the club’s SAS was a memory.
It is inevitable that this casts a shadow over the partnership, but it would be an immense shame if the pair were lost from the archives of the best footballing duos in history. Circumstance transpired to bring them together in a team that was otherwise simply not equipped to push for the league, ultimately dragging them down to second best, but this cannot erase the mesmerising connection shared by the two strikers.
Who can forget Suárez’s remarkable four-goal haul against Norwich or Sturridge’s delicate chip over an onrushing Tim Howard in the derby? These are the things that fans pay to go and see and it cannot be denied that Suárez and Sturridge were the ultimate crowd-pleasers. It is this, and not the circumstances in which it all fell apart, that should remain their legacy.
By James Martin @JamesMartin013
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp