With a number of heavy first touches--perhaps moreso than is the norm--and a general air of frustration, it was clear that Daniel Sturridge wasn't fully up and running against Spurs last weekend. His movement off the ball and ability to get into dangerous positions were still among the best on the pitch, but his overall game was off a bit, and it's something that the striker readily acknowledged in the build-up to tomorrow's visit to Southampton:
"My fitness is fine. When I came back for the Tottenham game I trained for a couple of days prior to that. I didn't feel as sharp as I could have. I'm not making excuses for not performing as well as I'd have liked to have done! I'm glad the team won and I was happy to help the team.
"We've got nine games left and it's nine cup finals in my opinion. I'm hoping to remain fit and God willing I can for those nine games."
His inclusion wasn't a huge surprise given the impact that he's had since arriving; the play of Philippe Coutinho has (deservedly) taken most of the acclaim over the past few weeks, but prior to the young Brazilian's emergence, most of the focus was on the instant understanding between Sturridge and Luis Suarez. The Suarez goal against Norwich is often highlighted as the best example of their potential in linking up, but their work in and around the area has been just as impressive on a more consistent basis.
Which is part of the reason why Sturridge's continued fitness concerns have been so concerning. The denial of getting to see that partnership further develop has frustrated, and the addition of Coutinho sweetens the prospect of a very dangerous attacking three. We've seen that in glimpses, but with Sturridge not yet fully fit, their ability to play together is still somewhat hypothetical.
If Daniel Sturridge can indeed remain fit for the rest of the season, it'll ideally give both the club and its supporters a strong foundation for optimism heading into next season--each of Sturridge and Coutinho with a full preseason under the belts, Luis Suarez still around, a strengthened squad that could finally be ready to find the consistency and quality that's eluded Liverpool for much of the past three years.