By Matt Scott
Daniel Sturridge has been one of the Premier League's more promising attacking talents in recent years, but after injury, inconsistency and now illness, the time has come for him to finally make his mark.
A move to a third major English club is imminent for Sturridge, with a switch to Liverpool on the cards, and after failing to consolidate a place at Chelsea and Manchester City, time is running out for the Birmingham-born attacker to prove his enormous potential.
It is impossible to deny that Sturridge has the ability to shine. The only player to have scored in the FA Youth Cup, FA Cup and Premier League in one season, he has shown a keen eye for goal in the last 18 months, notching 21 goals in 57 appearances since the start of a temporary switch to Bolton that kick-started his top-flight career.
After hitting eight in just 12 games for the Trotters - including four in his first four appearances in a Bolton shirt, against the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham - Sturridge returned to Stamford Bridge a year ago ready to step up to first-team reckoning under Andre Villas-Boas.
The Portuguese's management brought the best out of Sturridge, if not always the whole side.
After sitting out the first three games of the season due to suspension, the 22-year-old exploded into the 2011-12 campaign with an outrageous back-heeled goal at Sunderland, following that up with three strikes in his next three league fixtures.
Nobody managed to outscore the attacker in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge, with only Frank Lampard matching his total of 11 goals for the season, but the campaign was not without its difficulties and frustrations.
Even under Villas-Boas, things were not always rosy. The former Coventry youth-teamer was blasted by the 34-year-old for failing to track back enough in Chelsea's dramatic 3-3 draw at home to Manchester United, eventually being substituted due to his unsatisfactory performance.
Managing just three goals in 2012, compared to 10 before Christmas, he eventually found himself dropping out of the first-team picture, especially once Villas-Boas had been replaced by Roberto Di Matteo.
Sturridge only played 90 minutes in the league four times under the Italian and was also overlooked for the Champions League final.
Many criticise Sturridge for a selfish style, which is hard to argue with when he is off-form. When playing well, however, it is that single-mindedness that can be the 22-year-old's biggest asset.
Sturridge has made no secret of his desire to play long-term in a central role: “That's the position I will always pick myself, centre-forward." A move to Anfield could see his opportunities as a main man improve.
He is thought to prefer a move to Tottenham to be reunited with Villas-Boas, but certainly has the technical proficiency to flourish in Brendan Rodgers' stylish system and could form a classic power and pace partnership with Andy Carroll or be paired with the similarly electric Luis Suarez.
The Olympic Games were set to be Sturridge's showcase as a central striker but a bout of viral meningitis has laid him low. Already in the shop window due to performances in recent years, the 22-year-old may benefit from a rest to come back firing next season.
Indeed, the forward is barely experienced at international level but a man-of-the-match performance against Netherlands in February proved that he can shine among the best.
Whether in red or blue, the time has come for Sturridge to step up and grab the opportunity that he so keenly desires.
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