Pitchside Europe

Sturridge return to reinvigorate Liverpool

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is close to a return to fitness and is in contention for the Merseyside club's clash at Stoke on Sunday - but what will he bring to the Reds if he does make the team?

The 24 year-old has been sidelined with ankle ligament damage since November, with his last appearance coming from the substitutes' bench as he netted a late header to rescue a point in the Merseyside derby.

Having been separated from his freescoring strike partner Luis Suarez for nine games, Liverpool could now reap the rewards if the SAS experiences a resurgence.

The ex-Chelsea forward netted nine goals in 12 appearances before his injury and while Suarez has carried the burden alone during his absence, between them the devastating pair have scored 29 of Liverpool's 46 goal total, which works out at a huge 63%.

Anfield boss Brendan Rodgers has reverted to a 4-3-3 formation in Sturridge's absence and will now readjust his line-up to accommodate the forward, most likely keeping Raheem Sterling wide on the right with Philippe Coutinho pushing forward and out to the left on occasion, with Suarez afforded more of a free role.

Defenders are evidently worried when Suarez drifts between the lines and this is where Sturridge's return will be key. With the Birmingham-born forward on the pitch, centre-backs will have to divide their attention between the two.

100% of the chances that Sturridge has created have come from central areas of the pitch, demonstrating how he focuses his play at the heart of opposition defences.

Having been adamant his preferred position was through the middle and that was where his strengths lied, Sturridge was willing to leave West London to prove himself, and has been vindicated now he has been given the chance.

Once marginalised at Stamford Bridge and forced out to the left, Sturridge has come into his own and is now one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League and also looking a safe bet to be on the plane to Brazil under Roy Hodgson.

Meanwhile, Suarez has created 24.4% of chances from various wide areas without Sturridge in the side and 30% with his partner alongside him. The England man's reluctance to drift wide gives Suarez the licence to roam and exploit the gaps his team-mate will create.

Although Sturridge has a woefully poor headed duel success rate of 6%, he is not in the side to hassle opponents aerially. The fact that 88% of the fouls he has been involved in have been committed against him displays his ability to force defenders into making a mistake, as they are worried a key pass or flash of pace will get the better of them.

Rodgers has been trying to persuade Mohamed Salah and Cristian Tello to sign but if Sturridge returns to fire on all cylinders, there will be no need.