It is developing into the season of the substitute - Manchester United's Javier Hernandez demonstrating in the course of rescuing Manchester United time and again over the merits of his personal philosophy that every second on the field of play is an opportunity. Manchester City's Edin Dzeko is less evangelical about the notion but he has been scoring from the bench nevertheless.
For a sense of how Daniel Sturridge feels about having been granted 72 minutes on the field in the Premier League all season, with only one start for Chelsea, consider his answer yesterday to the question of what he feels he has learned from Fernando Torres.
“I don't really want to say. I watch certain players and that helps me to become [better],” he said, and it is actually very hard to blame him for feeling that the Spaniard has something to learn from him.
Sturridge seems always to have been looking for something better than what he has in his footballing life. He left Manchester City for Stamford Bridge in 2009 because his £50,000-a-week pay demands were well above what he could have expected but now finds himself in a state of limbo, wondering where the next chance will come and with the expectation of playing from the start for Roy Hodgson in Stockholm tomorrow a novel experience.
Confidence might be restored this week, as he and Manchester United's Danny Welbeck find themselves as relatively senior players at a time when Hodgson, who has not turned to Jermain Defoe after Wayne Rooney's withdrawal, casts his net far and wide for players and takes the number he has selected to 48 already. But something rather less than that awaits him back at his club, where Roberto Di Matteo views him less enthusiastically than Andre Villas-Boas. “I think it is difficult [to be confident], to be honest,” Sturridge said. “If anyone says to you, 'if you don't play, you are fine' it is a lie. I do not believe it is easy to not play and then switch it on like a light. You cannot do that. You have to play regularly. You have to be able to replicate what you have been doing week in week out.
“Some players can come off the bench and play well. Some players cannot come off the bench and play well. Some players have an impact and score. Some cannot. Everyone is different. I prefer playing from the beginning of games and if I cannot do that then fine.”
It is a theme Michael Owen has articulated before - the difficulty for a striker of building yourself up for a game only to sit on a bench - and the statistics of Sturridge's season tell the story of this very transparent frustration. A goal in the League Cup against Manchester United - the 23-year-old's only start - might have cemented him an opportunity, but at Swansea's Liberty Stadium three days later he was back to his usual spare-part role.
There were 17 minutes there, one minute against Shakhtar and eight in Sunday's draw with Liverpool. It is certainly a different outlook for him than the one he had under Villas-Boas. “He's helped me a lot,” Sturridge said 12 months ago. “He's playing me a lot so I can't complain. I've not had a Chelsea manager do that for me before. It's helped me so much.” That was after Villas-Boas asserted in an interview in Portugal this week that he would be playing through the middle next season with Fernando Torres seemingly written off.
He is not a striker in the physical mould of course, though at 6ft 1in far taller than some appreciate. “Messi is 5ft 5in and he plays for the best club in the world as a centre forward. Aguero for Man City; Tevez. Many players are not 6ft. You do not have to be strong and powerful to be a centre forward. You can also be skilful and agile. You need a certain belief.”
Sturridge was at least taking comfort in the fact that he is not alone in finding England easier terrain than the Premier League. “He has made it clear that players do not have to start for their clubs to play for [the country],” Sturridge said. “That is a huge leap of faith for players like myself who are not playing regular first-team football. If that opportunity was not there - if the manager had not [made] that statement - it would be difficult for the likes of myself and other players who are not playing week in week out, like Danny Welbeck.”
This is the way of the world with England. Two weekends ago, the Premier League starting XIs showed up only 62 players available to Hodgson, 28 per cent of those on the field of play. So Sturridge looks set to get a rare chance. The pressure to prove something will be felt more intensely by him than perhaps any other who runs out in white, in Stockholm. – The Independent