A man whose name is often associated with unfulfilled promise and wasted opportunity, Daniel Sturridge could finally be back to his best, or at least something near it.
After arriving at Anfield in January 2013 from Premier League rivals Chelsea for around £12m, a paltry figure for a 23-year-old English striker, the Birmingham-born finisher set the league alight alongside his old ‘SAS’ partner Luis Suárez.
The dominant duo were the driving force behind the title push of 2013/14 that failed so cruelly, and 21-goal Sturridge was one of the deadliest strikers around.
Then came the downfall.
Injury is a harsh mistress - the one thing that, no matter who and how good you are, can take everything away from you as a player, should she wish.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, and for Sturridge, she decided to give a particularly harsh dose to the former-Bolton loanee, ensuring that a series of re-occurring hamstring and thigh injuries, among other ailments, would severely interrupt what was set to be a lucrative goal-scoring career for the Reds.
Even a desperate loan move to doomed West Brom in January of last season couldn’t alleviate his issues, as he limped out of the game against his former side Chelsea after just three minutes, holding that damned hamstring again.
He was set to be discarded this summer as Jurgen Klopp and the rest of the club’s hierarchy finally decided that enough was enough and that he would never be strong or fit enough again to be worth keeping around – but then a miracle happened.
While the majority of the first team was away on World Cup duty, Sturridge had an extended run in the side during pre-season in which he was the main goal-scoring threat. He found the back of the net six times in his nine friendly outings at a rate of a goal every 61 minutes, a frightfully good return as he made the push to show he was deserving of a second (or possibly eighth) chance.
While performances against opponents like Chester, Tranmere and Blackburn Rovers may not be the most accurate yardstick against which to measure form and ability, it is a sign that he hasn’t lost his eye for goal during his long series of lay-offs. And, importantly, it led to Klopp deciding to keep him around as another option at the top of the pitch, instead choosing to let go of the equally-fragile Danny Ings.
''Daniel is outstanding. If he is fit, he will play a role in the team... When I came here, I was very excited about the fact that I would be working together with him.'' KLOPP
Sturridge, however, is still left with the unenviable task of dislodging either Mané, Salah or Firmino if he is to be a regular starter in the first team.
Now, many thousands of words have been spoken, typed and published about the effectiveness and ability of Liverpool’s so-called ‘Fab Three’, so I’ll keep mine brief. All are magnificent players who are among the best the Premier League has ever seen at what they do; and, together, the make something of an formidable force in Liverpool’s attack.
Of the deadly trio, Firmino would be Sturridge's main target to dislodge. Better as a central poacher, the Brazilian is currently enjoying an uncharacteristically poor run of form, and is often under-appreciated because he is not a ‘natural’ forward who guarantees 20 goals and more every season. His true value lies in the way he can, so flexibly, come deep to collect the ball and feed it to those who have ran beyond him, and his ability to sense exactly the position he should be in at the right time. Those no-look finishes are boss too.
''With all players, I am completely open to individualising training.'' KLOPP
But in 2018/19's opening games so far, Firmino has seemed a little sluggish and a yard or two off the pace as he nurses his World Cup hangover, perhaps leaving the door slightly ajar for Sturridge to force open.
After coming on as a substitute in the second half on the opening day drubbing of West Ham, the Englishman famously scored with his very first touch at the back post from a corner, and in that ten seconds he contributed more than his Brazilian counterpart has this season in three starts.
I want to be clear that I’m not advocating that Firmino be punished by being forced to rot in the reserves after a mere handful of less-than-inspired showings, but I do believe that now could be the right time to drop him for Sturridge to aid both of their causes.
Firmino, it seems, needs extra resting time and a short period on the sidelines, with a few 15-20 minutes cameos from the bench being just the tonic, while Sturridge desperately needs a start.
The Leicester game is an ideal time for this – it makes no sense to send Firmino into another international break over-extended and risk an injury whilst there, and all it may take for Sturridge is one or two more goals to send his confidence and self-belief sky-rocketing.
Sadly (and I hope not, but), it still feels like the next big injury is only waiting around the corner for the 28-year-old, which just says to me that the club should take the opportunity to raise his confidence, and his potential price tag, while they still can.