When Daniel Sturridge left Manchester City for Chelsea back in 2009, the overwhelming consensus was that he would go on to become a wonderful center forward. After all, here was a young man who had it all: pace, power, technical ability and a calm head in front of goal.
Admittedly somewhere between his switch from Manchester to London and his subsequent move from the capital to Merseyside, his star faded and his ability to make it at the very top level was doubted. But the 24-year-old returns to the Etihad Stadium this evening with his potential realized; at this juncture the England international is the main man for Liverpool, spearheading a title charge for one of the game’s most iconic clubs.
It’s a club that has undergone a summer of seismic change. The Reds have spent in excess of £100million to compensate for the departure of Luis Suarez, and Brendan Rodgers is set to strengthen his squad even further, with the arrival of Mario Balotelli seemingly imminent.
But in amongst the furore that has accompanied the sale of Suarez and Liverpool’s unrelenting forays into the transfer market, a few things have been overlooked when it comes to the current crop of players. Most notably, how Sturridge now must assume the most significant role in amongst one of the most incisive attacking units around.
For the former City and Chelsea man, this rise in stock has been welcome, but there were stages in his development when questions emerged about whether he could cut the mustard at the pinnacle of the game. Most notably during his time at Stamford Bridge, where he was shunted to the right flank and perceived as a selfish and erratic player.
But even during those low points, a raw ability shone through. And it was enough for Rodgers to take a chance on Sturridge when he splashed out £12million for his signature back in January 2013, with a promise that he’d play him in his best position—as a center forward. Thirty six goals in 50 games later in the iconic red strip, and it’d be fair to say that it was money well spent.
Despite being part of a devastating front-line partnership last season, there’s always been a sense that Sturridge’s influence is a little unappreciated. After all, he’s typically lined up alongside enormous figures like Suarez and Steven Gerrard during his time at the club, men who have found their own unique ways of grabbing the limelight when playing for Liverpool.
But with the former gone and the latter approaching the end of a glittering career, Sturridge has a chance to become Liverpool’s next superstar. And already he’s shown glimpses that he’s ready to handle the pressure that comes with assuming that mantle.
After all, in the games that Suarez was unable to feature in at the start of last season Sturridge stepped up. He netted four times in Liverpool’s opening five games—matches in which the mercurial Uruguayan was banned—and this season, when his team were toiling in their opening game of the season against Southampton, Sturridge rose to the occasion, giving his team a valuable three points with a late strike.
But just as Rodgers demands of all of his players, he’ll be looking for further improvements from a forward who seems to have revitalized hunger not only to improve, but for the game itself. Perhaps most pertinently, the Liverpool boss be looking for Sturridge to be impactful on a consistent basis in the very biggest games.
A strong performance against Manchester City would certainly be an excellent place for Sturridge to start. Rodgers has talked up the Reds’ title aspirations this week and he’ll be acutely aware that his team can make a massive statement should they rock up at the Etihad and turn the champions over.
If they’re to do that and if the Reds are to mount a title charge of comparable clout to last season, then Sturridge must continue to flourish as the leader of Liverpool’s attacking pack. Given the flurry of new faces that have come through the Anfield door this summer, Rodgers will be looking to the likes of the Liverpool No.15 to afford some crucial continuity to a squad in transition and to provide a fine example to the new recruits.
Last season, Sturridge netted 21 league goals for the Reds in what was undoubtedly his best ever season in English football. But with Liverpool’s refreshed attacking impetus set to be channeled towards him in 2014/15, the forward will conscious that even bigger things are expected of his this season, even without Suarez in situ.
Under the tutelage of Rodgers—the man who finally unlocked Sturridge’s previously shackled potential—you’d back the striker to go from strength to strength. He looks ready to take the next step in his career and showcase he has what it takes to help bring the glory days back to Anfield.