Jurgen Klopp isn’t the first manager to wonder just how much Daniel Sturridge wants to play football. The striker has been beset by injuries throughout his career, and a frustrated Klopp last week said he needed to learn the difference between "pain" and "real pain", another voice in the ever-growing chorus wondering whether he might perhaps at times push himself a little harder. But if Klopp had also asked himself whether Sturridge is worth the hassle, he had his answer here. Sturridge was withdrawn after 58 minutes but by then he had won the game and ensured Liverpool’s place in the last four of the Capital One League Cup after helping his side dismantle Southampton 6-1 on Wednesday night.
Liverpool was trailing and looking as through it might be overwhelmed by a committed Southampton performance when Sturridge struck twice in four minutes to change the complexion of the game. Both goals were classic Sturridge goals, showcasing both his movement and his finishing. Both also, it should also be said, came from superb passes. Divock Origi added a hat-trick and Jordon Ibe another on a night that ended with Liverpool rampant, playing the a confidence and sense of style that was wholly out of keeping with an edgy first quarter but that underlined just what a difference Klopp has made to this side.
"I said to him after the game, ‘Now I know what everybody’s talking about’," Klopp said of Sturrdige’s performance. "Of course, I know about his quality. It’s important for us we have these good strikers. How should I know (if Sturridge can get back to his career-best form of 2013-14)? Maybe he can be better. Write this: ‘Daniel Sturridge can be much better than he was’.
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"No (Sturridge did not need convincing to start). The problem with Daniel was we didn’t know how long he could play. He had not the perfect preseason. It was a good decision (to select him), I have to say."
Sturridge’s first, scored after 25 minutes began with a sweeping, first-time crossfield ball from Joe Allen, a much-maligned player but one who remains as tidy on the ball as almost anybody in the Premier League. Sturridge took it down and with a check and jink onto his left foot created just enough space for the shot, which he drilled low past Maarten Stekelenburg.
Four minutes later, it was a jink from Emre Can that created space before playing a perfectly weighted ball over the top with the outside of his right foot. Sturridge, starting from a position on the left, ran away from Cedric Soares and, with a first time sidefoot, guided the ball past Stekelenburg. By then there was a clear swagger about Liverpool.
Yet it had all begun so differently. Ronald Koeman has a reputation as one of the more affable Premier League managers, but there’s been a different side of him on show this week. First there was his pointed complaint that his side had lacked focus in its 3-1 defeat to Manchester City on Sunday; then there was his only thinly veiled attack on the club’s board in the build-up to this tie, pointing out for the second successive summer he had seen a raft of gifted players depart without huge amounts of money being made available for reinvestment. He is not, he made clear, "a project manager", a turn of phrase that seemed to suggest he would consider his position if he faced similar sales this summer.
Initially, Southampton’s players seemed to been rattled into action by their manager’s expression of frustration. Given Sadio Mane had scored the equalizer in the league game at Anfield last month, Liverpool could hardly claim to be unaware of the aerial threat he offers, yet within a minute the Senegal striker had powered Ryan Bertrand’s cross past Adam Bogdan.
Southampton continued to threaten with its aerial prowess — Mane’s goal was its seventh headed goal of the season, more than any other Premier League side — while Liverpool, much-changed from Sunday’s league win over Swansea City, struggled to get going. Sturridge’s opener transformed the game.
Origi added a third in first-half injury-time, getting a decisive touch on Alberto Moreno’s shot as a corner was half-cleared. Stekelenburg appealed for offside, but the Belgian was played onside by Steven Davis. Origi’s second, scored after 69 minutes, was rather more memorable as he moved on to Ibe’s pass and thumped a first-time finish in off the underside of the bar. Three minutes later Ibe chested down a Moreno cross and crashed in a fifth. Orgin completed his treble with five minutes remaining, heading in a cross from the young substitute left-back Brad Smith.
There was further good news as Jordan Henderson, after three months out with a broken bone in his foot, made his comeback as a late substitute. The only negative for Liverpool was a fifth yellow card of the season for Can, who will be suspended for Sunday’s trip to Liverpool. On this showing, against the side second-bottom of the table, it shouldn’t need him.
In progressing to the semifinals against Stoke, Liverpool avoided the potentially more difficult draws against Everton or Manchester City, but Klopp pointed to his team’s recent 4-1 win at City as proof they need not be concerned about facing them, and insisted that Stoke remain a significant challenge.
"I have absolutely no problems with a match against Everton," Klopp said. "As you could see we have no problem with matches against Manchester City, but we got Stoke. I’ve had a few finals in my life and I know there was never an easy one. Stoke will want this final, for sure."
Information from FOXSoccer.com’s wire services contributed to this report.