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The former Manchester City forward's form has dipped dramatically during the second half of the season, culminating in an uninterested display against Arsenal on Saturday

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By Oliver Platt

For the most part, at this crucial stage of the season, things have taken a turn for the better for Chelsea.

Managers of the top clubs often speak of staying in touch at the summit of the domestic table and ensuring they maintain their sides' progress in the cup competitions they would be interested in taking a tilt at when spring rolls around.

While a degree of consistency is, of course, required, swashbuckling football in the winter months will not always equate to end of season honours. Just ask Manchester City.

Chelsea's stuttering league form under Andre Villas-Boas has meant that their revival since his sacking and the emergence of Roberto Di Matteo has taken them only as far as competing for a place in the top four of the Premier League.

FLOP OF THE MATCH

 PLAYER RATING
4.5 His tendency to spend too much time on the ball was a frustrating one for Chelsea, who would have expected him to get more joy against Gibbs. Wasted some good positions on the counter-attack.
The truly testing stages of the FA Cup and Champions League, however, come later in the season and that has enabled the Blues to transform a seemingly lost campaign into an appearance in one cup final with the very real possibility of another to follow in the biggest competition of all.

On an individual level, places in the squads of 16 national teams competing at Euro 2012 are up for grabs. New contracts are there to be earned.

And even for those who find their futures secure, it remains advisable to ensure your coach is not tempted to open the club chequebook for a player in your position during the summer transfer window.

It is unfortunate, then, that the spark of a player who once oozed talent and promise, and began such a personally significant season with veritable aplomb, has fizzled out at this vital juncture.

Daniel Sturridge had proved beyond doubt while on loan with Bolton Wanderers that he had developed into an excellent Premier League player, scoring eight goals in just 12 matches.

The now 22-year-old returned to Chelsea with Didier Drogba's long-term future in question, given that the Ivorian would turn 34 during the 2011-12 campaign, and Fernando Torres continuing to struggle to find £50 million form.

Despite playing on the right-hand side of Chelsea's three-man attack, nine goals in 13 Premier League games catapulted Sturridge to the top of the club's scoring charts and thrust him into the spotlight as a new contender for a place in the England starting XI at Euro 2012.

He earned his first cap as a substitute in the friendly against Sweden in November and won the man of the match award despite only appearing from the bench against the Netherlands in February.

That appearance at Wembley has been one of few bright spots in 2012. Sturridge's displays have dipped dramatically since the turn of the year, with just one league goal added to his tally, and Saturday's display against Arsenal summed up a miserable few months.

Only in the team due to the changes rung by Di Matteo following the Blues' victory over Barcelona and upcoming return leg in midweek, Sturridge looked laboured at the Emirates Stadium.

Cutting inside from the right, he was dispossessed nine times, more than any other player, doing nothing to shed the tag of selfishness he has occasionally been labelled with.

It should be recognised that Sturridge has played 42 games for club and country this season, starting far more (35) than he ever has previously. But suggestions that he has grown tired of a lack of opportunities in the central striking role persist and raise serious questions about his future at Chelsea.

Villas-Boas had already ordered Sturridge to carry out his defensive duties more suitably attentively before he conceded a penalty and was hauled off by the Portuguese during Chelsea's 3-3 draw with Manchester United in February.

HARRY'S ENGLAND?
4/1 England are 4/1 with Sportingbet to reach the semi-finals of Euro 2012.

It is probably one of his primary reasons for preferring the No. 9 role – the defensive side of the game is not his strong suit and when Villas-Boas took up a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two banks of four expected when Chelsea concede possession, he handed Sturridge more responsibility in his own half.

Sturridge's interest does not seem to have perked up since the arrival of Di Matteo and his impatience at the idea of biding his time and working for the good of the team is not only a sad indictment of his character, but could also cost him on the international stage.

The hamstring injury suffered by Theo Walcott on Saturday has put the Arsenal speedster's availability for Euro 2012 in doubt, potentially leaving the right wing position vacant.

A few months ago, Sturridge would have been the front-runner to take over the role. Now, it may be wiser for the as yet unnamed England manager to select for his squad a player not thinking about the position he would rather be playing in.


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