Jurgen Klopp praised Daniel Sturridge’s ability to make a difference off the bench after his sensational strike a minute from time preserved Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the Premier League in a 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Saturday.
Sturridge has endured an injury-ravaged three years since Klopp took charge at Anfield and was loaned out to relegated West Brom for the second half of last season.
But despite playing a reserve role to Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Sturridge has now scored four goals in seven appearances this season.
“The whole dressing room was pretty much dancing. He had such a difficult time but now he has a wonderful time,” said Klopp.
“Coming in and being fresh and making decisions is so important. It was a fantastic goal.
“He had a full pre-season and is in best shape since I know him.”
For the second time in four days Eden Hazard seemed set to haunt Liverpool as, after deciding a League Cup tie between the pair on Wednesday, the Belgian fired Chelsea in front on 25 minutes.
But Sturridge’s late intervention means Liverpool move level on points with Manchester City at the top of the table ahead of a huge clash between the two at Anfield next weekend.
Chelsea are just two points back in third and showed their own title credentials by continuing an unbeaten start under Maurizio Sarri with an impressive defensive display complemented by Hazard’s class at the other end of the field.
Sarri has routinely insisted Chelsea can’t challenge Liverpool or City for the title, but admitted he his side are closer than he thought after two meetings with Liverpool.
“No, I think they are further forward,” said the Italian when asked if Chelsea are title contenders. “But I think also we are more close than I thought one week ago.”
Salah was back for Liverpool after being crowned the third best player in the world for the past year by FIFA on Monday.
But the dead eye for goal the Egyptian showed last season to earn that accolade ahead of the likes of Lionel Messi and Hazard, was missing before he was replaced by Xherdan Shaqiri 25 minutes from time.
“It was not Mo’s best game of his career for sure,” added Klopp.
“It’s like riding a bike and it’s not that you wake up in the morning and cannot ride a bike anymore. He just has to work.”
Twice Salah wriggled into clear shooting positions on his favoured left foot on the edge of the box inside the first 10 minutes, but his first tame effort was easily saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga before he blazed his second high and wide.
Just as in midweek when Hazard came off the bench to win the game with a stunning individual run and finish, Liverpool were undone by a moment of magic from Chelsea’s number 10.
Hazard was picked out by a fine through ball from Mateo Kovacic. Although he was forced onto his weaker left foot Hazard still managed to drill the ball low past Alisson Becker for his seventh goal of the season.
Salah should have levelled against his old club just after the half hour mark when he outmuscled Marcos Alonso and rounded Kepa, but his goalbound effort was cleared off the line by Antonio Rudiger.
The world’s two most expensive goalkeepers were on show and Kepa and Alisson showed why they cost a combined £140 million ($183 million) with big saves around the hour mark. First Kepa denied Mane an equaliser and then Alisson stopped Hazard scoring his second.
Shaqiri sliced a huge chance wide and David Luiz then hacked Firmino’s header off the line as Liverpool seemed set to be held scoreless for the first time since they last visited Chelsea in May.
However, Sturridge succeeded where Liverpool’s first-choice front three had failed with a spectacular dipping effort from 25 yards against his old club to again prove his worth in Klopp’s bid to end a 29-year wait to win the title.