Whisper it, but Liverpool appear to have the old Daniel Sturridge back. But how has the forward forced his way into Jurgen Klopp’s thinking again and will it last?
Sturridge has appeared a man reborn in pre-season, in stark contrast to how he ended the previous campaign on loan at West Bromwich Albion.
Sturridge sustained a hamstring injury just three minutes into his third match against Chelsea, missing the next two months of West Brom’s relegation battle, before heading back to Anfield having played less than two hours of football for the Baggies after joining them in January.
With just a year left on his Liverpool contract, the writing appeared to be on the wall, with Sevilla and Fenerbahce both reportedly keen on the signing Sturridge this summer.
And yet as we near the start of the new campaign, the England international is now in line to be involved in Liverpool’s opening game of the Premier League season against West Ham at Anfield on Sunday.
Sturridge has featured in all of the club’s pre-season games so far this summer, scoring against Chester, Blackburn Rovers, Manchester United, Napoli and Torino, while even captaining the team for the second half at Ewood Park.
“The hunger will never change. I’m taking every day as it comes with a positive mindset. That’s all I’m going to do,” Sturridge said after impressing on the club’s summer tour of the US.
“Pre-season has been going great but, you know, I’m not getting too carried away. It’s just great to be part of the club and helping and making sure that we can win games.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp certainly seems convinced, saying: “Daniel is an outstanding player. If he is fit, he will play a role in the team.”
So far this summer, Sturridge has been free from injury, with the striker known to undertake a highly-disciplined eating regime in order to prevent the strains, pulls and tears that have often blighted his time at Anfield.
That diet has often included spinach, curly kale, Omega 3-rich flax and chai seeds, as well as steamed veg, meat and fish.
Meanwhile, Klopp himself has even stated that he is open to putting Sturridge on an individual training programme in order to keep him fit this season.
“I am completely open to individualising training,” Klopp said. “When I came here I was very excited about the fact I would be working together with him. Since then he has had a few injury issues.
“Does he have to play 50-something games? No. But hopefully he will play a few really good ones. That is the plan.”
Staying fit must therefore be the player’s main priority now, although there is no guarantee of that.
Sturridge’s chronic injury problems since joining the club from Chelsea are well documented, with the Englishman having so far been absent for an incredible 567 days while on the Anfield treatment table.
Groin, ankle, thigh, hamstring, hip, knee and calf – you name it, Sturridge has injured it during the past five and a half years on Merseyside.
So much so that the frontman has sustained 14 different knocks and been sidelined for 65 of the 207 Premier League games (31.4 per cent) Liverpool have played since his debut in January 2013.
Not even Klopp’s arrival as Liverpool manager in October 2015 has seen an end to Sturridge’s fitness issues, though, with the 28-year-old even missing the German’s first match in charge at Tottenham with swelling on his knee.
For the club’s fans, these injury-enforced absences – Sturridge has started just 23 league games in the last three campaigns – must be hard to take given his devastating form up front under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14.
That season Sturridge managed 22 goals and nine assists in just 29 league games to almost guide Liverpool to a first top-flight title since 1990.
However, even that impressive campaign was interrupted mid-season by an ankle-ligament problem that saw the forward sit out eight league fixtures, and the worry will be the same could happen again at any time.
Rewind to this time last year and the noises coming from both player and manager were eerily similar.
“I worked individually over the summer, worked my socks off in LA on holiday. It was a good vibe, good to be getting those metres in the gym and those types of things,” said Sturridge last July.
“Coming here and working with the gaffer and his team, and ensuring I’m in the best shape possible, is important for me going forward to help the team win trophies.”
Klopp, meanwhile, was equally upbeat last summer, observing: “He is in good physical shape, absolutely. Daniel could be part of the full pre-season so far, so that’s very important. It’s looking good.”
Sturridge went on to feature in just nine league encounters for Liverpool last season – scoring only twice – the last of which came against Chelsea at Anfield in November.
Liverpool supporters will be desperately hoping it will not be a case of déjà vu as far as their injury-cursed striker is concerned.