Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge: Brendan Rodgers is very demanding
Rarely does a game go by without one of Liverpool's strike force, Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez or Raheem Sterling, turning to berate another for shooting instead of passing.
It is not, however, like the 70s, when Tommy Smith and Emlyn Hughes combined effectively in central defence, but detested each other off the field. The Liverpool forwards get on well, until one of them is spurned in front of goal.
“I’m demanding. Stevie’s demanding. Everyone’s demanding,” said Sturridge. “It’s not just Luis that’s demanding of the players. The manager’s very demanding of the players. It’s important that everyone’s demanding if you want to be successful and everyone’s pushing each other to get the best out of each other. That’s what we all try to do.”
Manager Brendan Rodgers is perhaps the most demanding of all, even substituting Sturridge when he has appeared to be selfish in front of goal. The result is a team ethic that includes Sturridge and Suarez being prepared to play out wide for the good of the team with Rodgers increasingly playing 4-5-1 rather than 4-4-2 or 5-3-2.
“It is the manager's job,” said Sturridge. “It is his tactical nous and he gets it right. The times he has made the changes it has been perfect. Myself and Luis understand we have to do a job for the team - we both like to play centrally but a the same time we both understand the team is more important than us.
“We both do the job effortlessly, we don’t mind being out there - if we are out there, we are out there, simple as that. If I'm play central and Luis runs central I will go wide. We are just being fluid up front and it is not about someone being in a position, it is the same with Raheem, we all move about up front looking to make space for each other.
“Luis works tirelessly. I think we combine very well, he’s someone who wants to win, and I want to win, we both enjoy to score goals, both like to assist each other. I enjoy playing with him.”
With the pair scoring 42 goals between them, 18 from Sturridge, Liverpool go to Old Trafford on Sunday in the rare position of being favourites despite six successive defeats on the old enemy's turf. Since losing at Chelsea in December they have taken 23 of 27 points to move second in the table, 11 points clear of Manchester United.
Liverpool have scored 29 goals in those nine games, including 15 in the current run of four straight victories. Suddenly they are the most exciting team in the country. “I don’t think we really realise what we are achieving as a team,” said Sturridge. “To be honest with you we just go out there and we enjoy ourselves and that’s the most important thing. I think I play with a smile on my face. Luis does the same, Raheem, and the list goes on throughout the team. I wouldn’t say we’re doing anything that we’re not doing on the training field.
“We just go out there and do exactly what the manager wants us to do. We work hard as a team, and the team ethic’s the most important thing. People talk about our attacking but it’s important that we also look at the defence and how well they’ve done.”
Sturridge was talking at a Coca-Cola promotional event centred on this summer's World Cup, but inevitably Sunday's more immediate task loomed large. He marked his 24th birthday by scoring the only goal when United visited Anfield in September, a smartly-taken close-range header. Doing the double over the champions would seem to underline Liverpool's title credentials, even given United's poor season, but Sturridge is not getting carried away.
“It is a great game to play in for the players, and a great occasion for the fans, but regardless of what happens there will still be another nine games to play. We have got Chelsea and Manchester City at home, we have got Tottenham at home. We have got other big games. Of course we want to do as well as we can in every single game and get maximum points if we can, but it is important we keep playing the football we do.
“Winning at the weekend is not going to change anything in regards to the title race, we are four points behind Chelsea - and Manchester City if they win their games in hand. Those teams are the favourites for me.”
Such caution is wise. The last time in Liverpool won at Old Trafford was in March 2009 when Fernando Torres’ pace destroyed Nemanja Vidic. The Serb was dismissed as Liverpool won 4-1 to spark dreams of the title. Manchester United held on though and, in the seasons that followed, Liverpool fell away. Whatever happens in the next two months this time the Liverpool revival has a far greater air of permanency.