Sturridge sees the value of FA Cup win
Winning the FA Cup would make it a successful season for the Reds, says Sturridge
ASTON VILLA v LIVERPOOL
(Tonight, 9.55pm, Singtel mio TV Ch 111)
For a second year running, Liverpool have their eyes on the prize.
Hopes of a renaissance in the English Premier League may have fallen - initally at the final hurdle last season and by the wayside before the current one had even reached Christmas.
The FA Cup, however, offers Brendan Rodgers' side a quantifiable sign of progress.
Their return to Wembley tonight will be a 19th visit to the stadium that has seen them lift 13 of the 17 major honours contested there since 1950.
Overcoming Aston Villa would leave a 14th triumph a mere 90 minutes away.
Little wonder, then, that supporters have affectionately dubbed this corner of north-west London "Anfield South".
The primary ambition for Liverpool remains to secure Champions League qualification by virtue of a top-four finish.
In the gluttonous parameters that currently govern the game, the greater financial incentive and prestige of the continental stage take precedence over what remains world football's longest-standing competition.
Daniel Sturridge disagrees.
"I think silverware is hugely important for every club," he insists.
"You can get in the top four and, of course, that's money for the club - that's why we need to get into the Champions League and then you're in that competition. But there's nothing better than having silverware - something to show for your season.
"You'd prefer to win silverware sometimes and, if we can be in the top four, then fantastic, but you want to have something to show for it as a player and as a club.
"Having a successful season means you win something or you do something that makes everyone happy. I'm unsure whether finishing in the top four every season is as satisfying as winning something at some point."
The seasoned England international is no stranger to Wembley.
He has scored four times at the national stadium for his country and for Great Britain during the 2012 London Olympic Games.
That same year, he clinched a second FA Cup winners' medal as an unused substitute in Chelsea's 2-1 win over Liverpool.
Of Anfield's five FA Cup veterans, only Steven Gerrard and Kolo Toure, now in the twilight of their respective careers, can match Sturridge's haul in this competition.
The potential for Gerrard, who leaves for pastures new in the Major League Soccer this summer, to sign off his enduring 27-year relationship with Liverpool with a trophy has provided the narrative for their run to Wembley.
"We'll never be able to repay Stevie - even if we did win the FA Cup - for what he's done for the club," concedes Sturridge.
"He's a legend, a living legend for the club, and we thank him for everything that he's done and everything he will do in the future. I'm sure he'll be involved in the club in some capacity.
"It's been a few months since he announced it so we're just trying to build for the future and that's what's most important. We can never take away what he's done for the club.
"But we have to keep moving forward. We've still got another nine games with him anyway so we're looking forward to those."
Sturridge's emphasis on the future is understandable. Five goals in 18 appearances - compared to 24 in 33 last year - tell the story of a player whose spell on the sidelines has dovetailed with Liverpool's half-season malaise.
Indeed, injury could still confine him for tonight's encounter against his home town club.
The eternally optimistic striker, however, remains focused on the bigger picture.
"Next season will be when you see what I can do," he vows.
"I think next season will be when you see what I really can do again because I've been out for a long period of time and it's been very stop-start. Next season, my performances will be back to exactly how they were before.
"It's taken time to get back into the groove of things and you can't have time to get back into the groove because, as soon as the games come about, I'm available and going to be involved in some capacity.
"I'm just happy to be playing and am looking forward to finishing this season on a high."
- The writer is a Liverpool-based freelancer who has been covering the English Premier League since 2009.
By the numbers
Liverpool and Villa have met in a FA Cup semi-final on three previous occasions, with the Villans winning in 1897 and Liverpool progressing in 1914 and 1996. Villa went on to win the trophy, while Liverpool were beaten in the final on both occasions.
They have met seven times in total in the FA Cup. Villa won that first meeting in 1897, but have lost the subsequent six matches.
3 - 0
In their last meeting in 1996, Liverpool won the semi-final 3-0 at Old Trafford, thanks to a brace from Robbie Fowler and a Jason McAteer goal.