Liverpool's pre-season preparations have seen them largely use Rickie Lambert as the only recognised forward as a result of transfer activity and World Cup recovery, but Daniel Sturridge returned against Olympiakos in the most recent game to play an hour.
The Reds' No. 15 finished as the Premier League's second top-scorer last season, with 21 goals to his name, and his importance to the team this term will only increase as a result of Luis Suarez's departure to Barcelona.
Ready to put his talents to the test against the Champions League's finest as well as prove his consistency domestically, the 2014-15 campaign will be a huge one for Sturridge as well as the team itself—but it's a challenge he is well capable of rising to.
It's easy to point to Suarez's 31 league goals as the factor Liverpool need to replace most, but the Uruguayan brought more than mere finishing to the side. His all-round ability was the driving force behind the two-pronged attack of 13-14, with Suarez dipping into midfield to pick up possession, working the channels and running beyond the defence, never ceasing his annoying of defenders and exploding into life when possession was won.
That's gone, but it also remains—Sturridge mirrors an awful lot of that movement as a centre-forward.
Always looking to get involved in the game, Liverpool's striker knows he will now be playing centrally every game, within reason, and as such can utilise the full extent of his game-intelligence to worry defences.
He drops off to collect the ball and spark counter-attacks, he runs the flanks to link up with wide forwards and full-backs. There is always, of course, that majestic pace which sees Sturridge accelerate away from defenders, often giving him that freedom of a one-on-one chance with the opposition goalkeeper.
It is not Liverpool's forwards which will suffer from Suarez's absence—as long as the wide forwards, and certainly one of the two central midfielders in the 4-3-3, fill the spaces which Sturridge creates with his own movement. It is Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho—and Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic when they are fit and ready for action—who the Reds must look to make the most use of. Their intelligent running will ensure the Reds' attack remains as potent as it was last season.
OK, so goals are important, no getting away from it. But Liverpool spread out goals well last term and, as Brendan Rodgers rightly pointed out to Goal.com amongst others, even without Suarez, this squad hit 70 league goals last season—more than every Premier League side bar Manchester City (102) and Chelsea (71).
The disappearance of Suarez will not suddenly mean nobody is capable of scoring. Additions Lallana (nine), Markovic (five) and Rickie Lambert (13) will all be a goal threat from time to time, while the suspicion has to be that Sterling will continue his upward trajectory in terms of end product and be well capable of hitting a dozen this term.
For Sturridge, though. A return of 21 was comfortably his best in a single season to date, but the most pleasing and confidence-inducing aspect of that tally was the consistency with which Sturridge found the net. When Suarez was suspended for the first part of last season, Sturridge scored one in each of the first four league games, winning the Reds 10 points along the way.
After a blank against Southampton he then scored one per game in the next four, too.
Only at the very end of the season did he finally go more than two league games without a goal, going five games goalless as he appeared to run out of steam a little in some matches—before finding the net again on the last day of the season.
In the 10 matches that Suarez missed from his Ivanovic ban, #LFC won 7, drew 2, lost 1 and Sturridge scored 11 goals.— LFC Online (@online_lfc) July 30, 2014
A 21 percent conversion rate for his 99 shots is no mean feat and, playing as the main striker this season with no shortage of ammunition set to come from the attacking players around him, it would be no great surprise to see him increase his average return of 3.4 shots per game from last season.
In turn, that 21-goal mark can also be improved upon. Back Sturridge to reach 25 this season for Liverpool in league play alone.
It cannot be said that there are no concerns whatsoever regarding Sturridge, though, and the main one has to be keeping him on the pitch.
It was a rare occasion when Rodgers didn't select him to start last season when available, but he missed eight games through injury from December 1 to January 1. If Liverpool can keep him on the pitch for 45 games in all competitions, that's a very enticing prospect to consider, one Brendan Rodgers clearly agrees with, as per LiverpoolFC.com.
I think you'll see Daniel go on another level again this season, with the confidence of a full campaign last year and scoring the goals he did. Hopefully he can stay injury free this season.
Can they, though, is the question?
It will depend partly on Sturridge's own robustness, a little luck and careful monitoring of his fitness—and having the players available to come in and replace him at the right time. Another pacy striker is a must since Loic Remy is no longer on the way, but others such as Sterling could well be looked at for that role at times.
Whoever comes in, whoever plays their part in the front line, Sturridge will be central to everything Liverpool do when looking to attack. His movement, his pace, his reactivity and most of all his goalscoring ability will be priority No. 1 to take advantage of this term. Sturridge has the ability to make the most of it all—and with that, Liverpool can enjoy another progressive, successful season.
Stats from WhoScored.com
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