Roy Hodgson might want Wayne Rooney to "explode" at this summer's World Cup but it is Daniel Sturridge's form that could prove the decisive factor to England's success in the competition.
Having scored in his last eight consecutive games, with 10 overall the former City youth product is fast becoming one of the most dangerous strikers in Europe. With 32 goals in 39 games for Liverpool since his January transfer from Chelsea last season, his lethal consistency may well prove pivotal in a difficult group. While expectations will probably be lower than usual this time around it may offer the perfect platform for the 24-year-old to announce himself on the world stage. Brendan Rodgers believes he can sit within that upper bracket and at the moment that doesn't seem an outlandish statement.
There is a mercurial element to Sturridge's style that makes him difficult to categorise. He is a poacher but will drop deep, wander wide and collaborate with build-up play; he has excellent movement in the box but can also strike from distance given the opportunity. An all-rounder of sorts, but not in the all-action, flag bearing kind of way, more one that happily slips under the radar, catching defences unawares with a sudden direct burst, clever finish or thumping drive.
What is most impressive when looking at his stats are that his goals have been scored with an average shots per game ratio of 3.5, compare that to his team mate Luis Suarez (surely the EPL player of the season), with 5.6 and you begin to see just how economical he has been this season bearing in mind he's only scored five less league goals than the Uruguayan in three less games. In close contests, with chances difficult to come by, his pragmatism could see England nudge ahead in stalemates where players are stifled by the energy sapping conditions.
It is exceptionally important then, that he is used in the right way; there may be difficulties with allocating Wayne Rooney the appropriate liberty to roam while also giving Sturridge the chance to find space both in front of the defence and in the channels. At Liverpool the dynamic movement of Sturridge, Suarez and Sterling make them exceptionally difficult to track, at any moment one could pop up centrally or be found charging down the byline and cutting in. But can England really be expected to play that sort of attacking football, given the inevitable pressure and the climate?
If Hodgson were to play a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney in the central position of the three attacking midfielders it would enable the Manchester United talisman to operate at his creative best but might mean sacrificing some solidarity in central midfield. Steven Gerrard has impressed many with his Pirlo-esque quarterbacking this season. His vision and passing range gives Liverpool the option to be more direct if required and this offers Sturridge the chance to utilize his movement and lightening pace off the last defender to hit the knock-out blow in a flash. But on occasion the England captain's dwindling pace has been exposed when left isolated and fending off quick counters. Making sure that combination can flourish could be vital.
The team could line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Sturridge out wide, cutting in to find space. This would give more control in midfield but if the team are under the cosh, it might be difficult to manufacture the opportunities he thrives off without neglecting his defensive responsibilities. Rooney would be given centre stage though, and the ever mounting expectation on him finally leaving his mark on an international tournament might lead to the temptation of feeding everything through him, which would be a mistake, he shouldn't have to be the main creative catalyst and goal scorer. Apportioning that responsibility might unshackle Rooney and maximise Sturridge's skill set. Can the two work together in a 'SAS' type double act? There is no suitable acronym unfortunately (SAR, RAS, WAD, DAW?), but in theory it is a tantalising prospect.
Whichever the formation, Sturridges' form is a constant reminder to Chelsea of how well a little faith can be repaid. Roy Hodgson and England could reap the rewards too if a suitable shape can be found to accommodate him.