Liverpool are likely to be without top scorer and key forward Luis Suarez for the remainder of the season, leaving a rather gaping hole in their attack; a hole which manager Brendan Rodgers hopes that winter recruit Daniel Sturridge will fill with distinction.
Sturridge had a blistering start to life at Anfield, scoring in his first three games for the club, but having gone off the boil and suffered a couple of injuries thereafter, he returned to the scoresheet against Chelsea, taking him to six goals in 12 appearances for Liverpool overall.
In the four games left in this season's Premier League, Sturridge needs to continue to find the goals to help the Reds win enough points to hopefully overthrow Everton and end the campaign in sixth place.
There are a number of issues which Rodgers has to resolve to ensure Sturridge can do this effectively—but this is why he has been signed for the Reds, and now the striker has to step up.
Having the Right Mentality
When asked after the Chelsea game how he had managed to have such an impact, Sturridge spoke about how he had a point to prove in the game (via LiverpoolFC.com).
I was disappointed not to start because the manager would have known I was a bit angry with Chelsea and wanted to prove a point against them. I was itching to get on and the team performed well in the second half. We started attacking a lot more; in the first half we were a little bit defensive. The game opened up and we showed what we're all about - it was good.
Most impressive—but Sturridge has to learn and accept that this is what is required every single match for Liverpool, not just when he thinks it behooves him to put in a shift.
Within minutes of entering as a substitute at half time, the striker had hit the post, set up a chance for a teammate and then finally scored the equalising goal. That is the kind of havoc that Daniel Sturridge is capable of wreaking game in, game out.
The problem at times is that he simply hasn't looked at the races, hasn't looked bothered enough, hasn't put in the work ethic required.
The kind of movement needed to fashion chances for himself and others doesn't happen by magic, it is Sturridge himself who has to make the runs and create the space. And he is capable, very capable indeed, but it needs to be shown on a much more regular basis if he is not to lose his spot in the team once again.
That kind of winning mentality, fighting mentality, 100-percent-taking-it-to-the-max-every-game mentality, is badly missing at times from this Liverpool squad, and they all need to get it back.
Luis Suarez possesses it—too much, at times, perhaps—and others need to follow in his footsteps.
Steady Position in the Team
Sturridge has mainly played as the central striker for the Reds, but he has floated in from the right side on a few occasions, and most recently has been used as an impact sub.
Now, with Suarez absent, he should almost certainly get a run of four 90-minute spells in his favoured position, leading the line and with no Suarez to bale him, or the rest of the team, out of trouble. Sturridge and his teammates are going to have to come up with the goods against Newcastle, Everton, Fulham and QPR—every one of them winnable matches.
They must play well, fight hard, create chances and score goals. And Sturridge has to be central to all of that.
Supply and Deliver
The creation of chances is not all down to Daniel Sturridge if he is to be expected to be the one getting on the end of them.
Against Chelsea, Suarez set up Sturridge before their roles were reversed late in the game for the second equaliser. In the previous two matches, Liverpool failed to score at all, meaning no player other than the front two have contributed a goal or an assist since Steven Gerrard netted a penalty against Aston Villa at the end of March.
Philippe Coutinho has been largely excellent since arriving from Inter Milan, and there will be a level of expectancy on him to provide chances for Sturridge in particular. Stewart Downing, Gerrard and Jordan Henderson will all also be asked to step up their contributions in the final third, while the likes of Suso may also get another chance in the team before season's end.
Sturridge is a very different forward to Suarez in that he will constantly look to make runs in off the shoulder of the defence, utilising space and through-balls, so his link-up with Coutinho in particular will be an exciting one to watch.
However, Sturridge can also be seen to drop deep or out onto the flanks, meaning it is vital that the second line of attack for Liverpool take their chances to break forward and central at every opportunity.
Sturridge has managed five league goals from 40 shots since arriving at Liverpool, giving him a 12.5 percent chance conversion rate. It's not the worst, but it can also be significantly improved.
However, one important point to note is that Sturridge has tended to score his goals in batches; hitting a few in a row before going on a little bit of a lean run, whether by form or injury or losing his place in the team.
Liverpool's hope must be that he can finish the season in form, having scored against Chelsea at the weekend. Adding another three or four goals to his tally would represent a more than satisfactory return for his first half-season at the club.
Others must pick up the burden of scoring too, and with Fabio Borini back in full training he could yet provide some surprise extra ammunition at the end of the campaign, but as the main striker it will be Sturridge who is expected to fire the Reds to four wins from their last four games.
In terms of overtaking their Merseyside rivals to finish sixth, Liverpool will have to have a flawless finish to the season.
They currently trail Everton by five points; winning the derby in early May reduces that to two points. The Toffees have home games against Fulham and West Ham United which they would expect to win in the normal course of events, but the final day of the season sees Everton travel to Chelsea.
With the London-based blues likely battling right to the end for a top-four spot, that really could be a match which goes either way, and if Liverpool do win all four games, then even a draw in that Chelsea-Everton fixture could be enough to see the Reds take sixth spot by virtue of having a superior goal difference.
And for that to remain the case, it becomes more important than ever for Daniel Sturridge and co. to adequately ensure that Luis Suarez is not overly missed for the remainder of the season.
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