Plenty of sentences on Daniel Sturridge over the past few years have included the word "potential" – potential to be a first-team regular at Chelsea, potential to be a key man for England, and so on. The challenge for the Liverpool striker is that eventually potential has to be transformed into consistent high quality performances, or else a player falls into the underachiever camp.

The early signs suggest he can take his game to the next level at Anfield – and, in turn, drag Liverpool back into contention for silverware. He found the net on his debut and has put together several other fine performances. The book on Sturridge is well-known – quick, a good dribbler, menacing left foot, eye for goal, full of confidence, rather injury prone, could arguably work harder, inconsistent.

Reds captain Steven Gerrard summed up the Sturridge situation perfectly when the striker’s move to Merseyside was sealed during the January transfer window. "He has said he wants to play football for a big club", Gerrard explained. "There’ll be no excuses. He’ll be with good players at a great club. He’s at an age now where he should be performing week in, week out."

"I think he’s at the age now when he needs to settle down, get a settled club and show consistently what qualities he’s got. It’s all there for him. He just has to go and grasp it with both hands."

Though Sturridge does not turn 24 until September, there is a growing consensus that this could be his last chance to prove himself at a big club. The stage is set, with Liverpool needing him to be a first-team regular. There is no Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata et al standing in his way. His versatility will give Brendan Rodgers the option of playing him on either flank with licence to roam in-field to support Luis Suarez or run in behind defences.

As for Rodgers, he has made it clear that he has formed a good relationship with Sturridge and cares little for some of the question marks over the striker’s attitude.
"Sometimes when you are quiet and you focus on yourself you can be criticised for being awkward, but I don’t think that is the case with Daniel at all", Rodgers explained earlier in the season. “I was aware of him beforehand and I think any frustrations and disappointments he’s had were purely down to the basis he wasn’t playing or getting an opportunity.

“I can understand that. He went to Chelsea as a 20-year-old and it was always going to be difficult for him to play. But he has mixed well here and is very hungry to learn. It is going to take time for him to feel at ease and comfortable."

Without question, Sturridge has the natural tools to be a 20-goal a season front man, even playing as an attacking winger. Liverpool already look like being a vastly improved team next season once Philippe Coutinho settles in and Rodgers is able to strengthen his team with the three or four new signings he has referred to recently. But whether they can close the gap on Manchester United and Manchester City may well depend on Sturridge’s development and maturity. Regardless, optimism is growing again at Anfield, with promising signs finally emerging from this new era.

As for England, Roy Hodgson is clearly a fan, recently naming the former Chelsea man as one of the young players who have the national team’s future at their feet. Incidentally, Hodgson was also linked with a move for Sturridge when he was in the Liverpool hotseat. Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and others have failed to nail down wide roles for England, opening the door for Sturridge to barge his way into the conversation if his Liverpool form continues to catch the eye.

The remainder of the campaign is critical for Liverpool – not only in chasing a European spot but in building chemistry for next season. How does Sturridge fit with Suarez? What is Coutinho’s best position? Can Rodgers get more out of Downing and Jordan Henderson, who have both shown signs of improvement? Where are the biggest holes to fill during the summer?

Intriguing times lie ahead. Ironically, just as Sturridge is looking to shrug off the "potential" tag, Liverpool are embracing it. And the two are intertwined. For the Reds to resurface as title contenders, the 23-year-old must prove that he can be a consistent contributor. Sturridge is at a crucial career crossroads – it is time for him to take his game to the next level.

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