As much as Liverpool might have wanted it to be there, Daniel Sturridge has been missing it ever since returning from injury for the first time in 2015. The trademark finishes have been there at times, taking a clever touch before scoring within 15 minutes of his first match back against West Ham, hitting an exquisite volley to level the FA Cup tie away to Crystal Palace, and drawing 10-man Liverpool back within a goal against Manchester United. But overall, it's been a waiting game to get the Daniel Sturridge most expected after such a long layoff.
Patience should be afforded, of course, as he essentially was forced into a recovery period that doubled his longest time off in the past few seasons. But the heavy touches and hesitancy have given way to disappointment with his lack of immediate success, and while it would be wonderful if things were back to at a world-class level instantly, it doesn't appear to be the case.
That much is clear to Sturridge, at least, as he's targeting next season to provide a chance to get back to his best in a Liverpool shirt:
"It will be next season before I'm back to my best. It's been great to be back involved, but it's taking time to get back in the groove of things. You can't have time to get back in the groove of things. As soon as the games come about, I'm available and of course I'm going to be involved in some capacity.
"I am just happy to be playing. I am looking forward to finishing this season on a high, but next season will be when you really see what I can do. After being out for a long period of time this season has been very stop-start. This season is just about helping the team win something. Next season is when you'll see what I can really do again. My performances will be back to exactly where they were before."
"Back exactly where they were" means goals coming at a record-setting rate for the club, and, more importantly, managing to string together consecutive appearances for longer than a month at a time. That may sound cynical, but it's sadly a reality for a player whose talent is undeniably but fitness record is tremendously concerning. A season after he finished second to one of the greatest goalscoring performances the Premier League has ever seen, Sturridge hasn't come close to matching the heights of the 2013-2014 campaign, and fitness is almost solely to blame.
So to hear him speak about looking to next season for his best form is encouraging, but any anticipation is tempered by the fear that he--and Liverpool as a result--will once again limited by injury worries.