When Luis Suarez left for Barcelona last summer for £70M, the man who was meant to replace the best striker in the Premier League was already at Liverpool. While his teammate had set the standard, having a season that had many ranking him amongst Europe’s very best, Daniel Sturridge hadn’t been far behind and for many was the second best striker in England last year.
Luis Suarez’ departure would hurt, perhaps, but if Sturridge could keep his performance levels up there might not actually be much of a drop off for Liverpool. At least that was how the thinking went up until Sturridge fell to injury early in the season. He’s been out of the lineup since, with two subsequent injuries as he prepared to return to action casting doubts as to whether Liverpool can rely on him to stay fit at all.
Hopefully, though, third time will be a charm, with Sturridge having rejoined training with his teammates over the weekend and in contention to make the squad against Chelsea on Tuesday. After the past two setbacks, many will be nervous until the striker has an extended, injury-free run, but Brendan Rodgers believes they’ve finally got Sturridge on the right track and that he’ll be a factor the rest of the way this year.
"He had a training session with the team yesterday and he trained very, very well," said the manager. "It was as comfortable as he's looked—even when he was coming back before he was maybe a little bit tentative. I thought yesterday he looked back to normal. We won't risk it, that's for sure. He's been out for a long time, so we just need to make sure he is ready and feels ready, which is important, to come and contribute."
It’s certainly good news for a Liverpool side that over the past six weeks has found its footing but is still in search of goals. A shift to three at the back and a double-pivot midfield has brought stability and allowed the club’s creative players to shine, but none of those creative players—or the strikers meant to support Sturridge this season—have been especially clinical with the chances created.
Sturridge, who had a 21% strike rate last season, should be more than capable of providing the clinical finishing Liverpool need to take what has been an improved and promising side and make it genuinely dangerous. Already the club have averaged 2.1 points per game since Rodgers changed the approach, and a few more goals to improve on that could see Liverpool legitimate contenders in the top four race.
Rodgers, though, cautioned fans not to expect too much from Sturridge too soon. After half a season spent on the sidelines, his fitness, touch, and movement will all be a little rusty. Of course, even short of match fitness and a touch rusty, he may be an improvement in front of goal on Liverpool’s current options. Or at least that’s what fans will be hoping if he comes on late against Chelsea with Liverpool needing a goal.
"I don't think he'll be 100 per cent when he comes back, that will only come when he's got his game time once he gets playing games," added Rodgers. "All we can do, alongside him, is make sure he is in the best possible condition that he can be, both physically and mentally, and that will give him a chance to stay fit."
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