LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea reacts during the FA Cup sixth round match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on March 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
While everyone and their pet giraffe has been poring over every little detail of Fernando Torres' trials and travails with Chelsea, another striker has been having a bit of a difficult time of things recently. Now that the Spaniard's 24-hour-plus goal drought has finally been snapped thanks to Leicester City's visit to Stamford Bridge, it's high time we paid a little bit of attention to the season that Daniel Sturridge is having.
Now, I missed the Leicester game because I was in Prague (poor me), but having read through the comments on the game thread it seemed as though Sturridge was not having one of his better days. This would not be the first time that the 22-year-old has failed to impress of late, and the poor performances are becoming a worrying trend. However, it would be silly to suggest that the striker's season has been unimpressive - he's scored eleven goals in all competitions, after all - and that means he must have had good streaks to go along with the bad? So what is it about Sturridge's style that makes him so vulnerable to being inconsistent?
It's not a difficult answer. There are many different types of forward, and Sturridge appears to be one of a fairly rare breed: The Poacher. He scores goals and doesn't do much else, which, amusingly, is a complaint once levied at Didier Drogba by Arsene Wenger. Why has this archetype fallen out of favour in recent years. That's simple too - it's because football is a team game, and building chances is more difficult than finishing them.
That's not to say poachers are valueless, of course - it's obviously incredibly important to score goals, considering that the whole point of the game is to outscore the opposition*. When they score, they matter a great deal. When they don't, things start getting more... touchy.
*Or to blind the masses from the hideous futility of existence while our secret robot overlords control the Earth. It could be that too.
The dilemma that poachers face is that on a normal team they don't actually get that many chances to score in a match. If a player scores with - and I'm making up numbers on the fly here - ten percent of his chances but only gets four or five chances a game, they're going to have matches where they don't help the team at all and matches where they're critical to their side's success. Contrast this with, say, Luka Modric, who touches the ball a hundred times a match and makes small positive contributions each time.
This is Sturridge's problem. He is built to turn chances into goals, but, like every other striker in the world, he doesn't always manage to do it, and when that happens the rest of the flaws in his game come into sharp relief. He doesn't pass. He doesn't use his pace particularly effectively. He's too good at dribbling to get stopped by defenders as easily as he does. He doesn't link up effectively with any particular player (except, perhaps, for Ashley Cole). He doesn't defend. He's selfish.
Sturridge plays a frustrating game and, when mired in a slump, looks all kinds of awful. It's important to remember, however, that when he's not slumping and actually putting away those opportunities, he's an incredibly important part of the team. Chelsea's strong run at the beginning of the season was very much Sturridge-influenced, and we shouldn't disregard his contributions as lightly as perhaps we have been. Before long, there'll be another big Sturridge goal to celebrate, and we'll all feel a little bit guilty for riding him so hard recently.
But that doesn't mean that there's not room for improvement. Basically, Sturridge is young and at a point in his career where he can choose between two paths. He has the ability to be a much more complete player than he currently is. His technique is superb, he's incredibly quick and he's picked out some brilliant passes, demonstrating a level of vision in those two or three moments that's been hidden away for the rest of the season. Or he could keep doing what he's doing, scoring enough goals to put up flashy numbers but not helping at all when he isn't scoring.
One of these Sturridges has the potential to be world-class, and the other is probably 'just' a decent enough Premier League striker. It's entirely in his own hands, and he's young enough that you could easily see him buckling down and putting the work in to be an all-round threat rather than Darren Bent's little brother. That's what makes him so exciting, to be honest - for all his flaws, Sturridge is still a prospect, and still has plenty of room to grow.
I have a habit of getting attached to players who've shown flashes of brilliance mixed with moments of what I'll delicately call being really bloody stupid (David Luiz, anyone?). It's more important to me that a young player shows the potential to be special rather than the ability to be consistently average, and for me, Sturridge his 'special player' somewhere in his toolbox.
Now it's simply a matter of seeing if the polish can be applied. Either way, it's far too early to write him off. What we have is a useful young player who's good enough to start regularly for Chelsea and yet isn't even particularly close to being a finished project. That's not the kind of asset we should be falling all over ourselves to sell.