Along with the summer transfer headaches, Liverpool were faced with an uncertain future for Daniel Sturridge due to injury. After finishing the club season well, Sturridge finally earned a spot as England's number nine, a spot that had been up for grabs over the past few months due to form and fitness. That was short-lived, unfortunately, as he was carted off in the first half of the friendly against Ireland with an ankle injury, a blow that would keep him out for most of the summer and leave his availability for the start of the Premier League season in doubt.
Thankfully his hard work in rehab paid off, with an impressive cameo in the second half against Celtic and an injury-free 90 minutes in a closed-doors friendly giving way to a start on opening day against Stoke City. Though he tired late, he looked up to his old tricks, combining smartly with Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas, and his arrowed left-footer from twenty yards proved the difference on a day when Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic seemed unbeatable.
With Luis Suarez still out--and still subject of links away--Sturridge is the man tasked with leading Liverpool's attack; Coutinho has the vision and Aspas may yet get plenty of his own, but for now all eyes are on Sturridge to be the man up front, and it's a responsibility that the 23 year old seems to relish ahead of a match that will see him line up opposite a striker many are labeling among the Premier League's best young talents:
"You have to rise to the pressure regardless of the situation you're in - whether we play against a top club or a club at the bottom of the league, you have to embrace the pressure. Every game we play in there is pressure, regardless of the opposition we're playing against. There is always going to be a pressure environment because no game is easy. You have to go into games with the right mentality. I don't think the pressure of winning a game is a weight on our shoulders because we're trying to win every game - it doesn't matter who we're playing against, we want to win. The games where your backs are against the wall, but you stand up in and fight and get a win or a point, they're the ones that count towards the end of the season."
Sturridge has displayed a maturity that many--myself included--had incorrectly assumed wouldn't be a part of his repertoire after he made his move to Merseyide in January. He still cuts a dejected and frustrated figure at times, something he attributes to being focused, but he's yet to put a foot wrong in the way he handles himself as a teammate and representative of Liverpool Football Club.
The biggest question now has little to do with character and everything to do with a concerning fitness record; he might be relishing the pressure of leading Liverpool's attack, but we'll have to hope that his body is able to cope with such expectations, especially given a history that's seen him regularly require treatment. I think we all expect big things from him this season, and at this point it appears that the only thing that could keep him from achieving them is fitness.