The air of doom and gloom had barely evaporated over Anfield on Saturday afternoon when a ray of hope shone out from everyone’s Twitter feed.
It was the usual fare from a footballer when their team has just lost a game, but Daniel Sturridge’s simple message was a reminder to Liverpool’s supporters that he was back in the country, back in training and back in Brendan Rodgers’ plans. Here comes the clichéd ‘he’ll be like a new signing.’
The Sturridge story is a well-known one by now, and one which saw a year-and-a-half of almost constant improvement following his arrival from Chelsea descend into misery and outright sadness as his contorted, pained expression became the image of Liverpool’s 2014/15.
He’s now been written off by many.
A questionable injury record throughout his career used as evidence that he’ll never be the same again – that sprightly thoroughbred of a forward we saw rampaging onto through balls and almost effortlessly linking up with Luis Suarez in 2013/14 has gone, perhaps never to be seen again.
But what those people are overlooking is that Sturridge’s most recent absence was one enforced by his club.
As the tail end of their 2014/15 descended into nothingness it was Liverpool, and more specifically Fenway Sports Group, who decided that the constant injury problems suffered by their star forward simply weren’t acceptable any more. Bags were packed, flights were chartered and he was off to recuperate away from the spotlight in America.
Sturridge’s operation and subsequent recovery away from prying eyes in Boston means that the 25-year-old is now facing the most crucial period of his career, and one in which he might be asked to perform in a slightly different role.
With Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and others signed this summer, the attack he is returning to be a part of is looking distinctly different to the one he left behind, and it is how Brendan Rodgers fits them all together which promises to be fascinating viewing over the next month or so.
The manager could, even if - as seems likely - Sturridge isn't considered fit enough (with some reports placing him on the sidelines for another month at least), unveil his new masterplan at none other than Old Trafford when Premier League football reconvenes after the international break, with likely absentees almost encouraging him to do so.
Philippe Coutinho will be suspended following his red card against West Ham, and with Adam Lallana also likely to be out, Rodgers could see this as the perfect opportunity to play the 4-3-3 formation that many expect to see from his Liverpool for the majority of the campaign – a system which could well stand or fall with Sturridge’s role within it.
Benteke’s profile and price tag means that he will of course be utilised as the central forward in that front three, with Firmino coming in from the right, Sturridge, Danny Ings or Lallana on the left and then a solid looking three behind them of James Milner, the presumably recovered Jordan Henderson and one of Lucas Leiva or Emre Can, who could be sacrificed for Coutinho in matches where Liverpool expect to be on the front foot.
This, though, creates a problem which Sturridge – or rather Sturridge’s ego – could have to confront.
Back when he became frustrated with life at Chelsea halfway through the 2012/13 season, it was the repeated stationing of Sturridge in one of these wider positions rather than upfront which led to the forward seeking a move away. He wanted somewhere to express himself, and didn’t feel that it was possible from so close to the touchline.
Yet now, with the extra experience and authority he’s picked up at Liverpool, plus the hunger the club will hope has been instilled with his injuries, could Sturridge thrive in the position?
The three-pronged attack he was often part of alongside Suarez and Raheem Sterling hardly had fixed roles, and with Benteke and Firmino around to spark off he should certainly still get his chances in front of goal.
Both Liverpool and Manchester United have had virtually identical starts to the season, but there remains a belief that we have still yet to see how either will truly line up for the majority of the campaign.
If Sturridge can return soon, and adapt to his reinvented role which we could see at United, then Liverpool could well be revealing their hand.
And it could be one in which a fully-fit Sturridge thrives in.
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