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The Daniel Sturridge Conundrum

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One of the Chelsea blogosphere's favourite subjects these days is whether or not the club should be looking to send 21-year-old striker Daniel Sturridge back out on loan. As we all know, Sturridge was used intermittently by Carlo Ancelotti in the first half of last season, particularly as a last gasp substitute when games weren't going our way, which was often. He failed to impress with Chelsea and was subsequently sent off on loan to join Owen Coyle's finishing school at Bolton Wanderers, where it was expected he'd get some regular starting minutes. He did that, and more.

Not only did Sturridge manage to find his way into the first-choice lineup at Bolton, he excelled, scoring eight goals in twelve games and looking for all the world like an established, elite player. It wasn't just the goals he was racking up - he was almost single-handedly ripping defences apart, creating chances as well as finishing them. Small wonder that his spell in Coyle's team turned heads around the country.

I mean, just look at this:

It comes as no surprise that many Chelsea fans are claiming that Sturridge is ready to slot into the first team at Stamford Bridge right now, and as a result they've reacted badly to Andre Villas-Boas' comments regarding the possibility of sending the young striker back out on loan:

[Whether or not to loan Sturridge out] is one of the decisions we have to take. Daniel is a very, very interesting player with a tremendous future. The individual is highly regarded by myself. I have 15 days in Asia to make the best decision and I need those four games to continue to assess.

-Andre Villas-Boas. Source: ESPN.

For many, the idea that Villas-Boas doesn't quite know what he has on his hands with Sturridge is crazy. After all, we've seen how good he's been, and that's in the Premier League against some fairly good competition. What else does he have to prove by going out on loan? That he can keep up a 25 goal per season pace for longer? Sturridge has, in many eyes, already established himself as a legitimate option for Chelsea's forward line, whether that's on the right or in the middle.

Is that a reasonable line to take? It strikes me as a little bit reactionary, due to the sample size, but it's undeniable that Sturridge has shown the sort of skills he needs to play up top for the Blues. Whether he can regularly hit those sorts of heights is another matter, and we'll have to wait and see whether he can achieve the level of consistency required for starters on top-level teams. He hasn't proven that yet, or come particularly close.

But despite my doubts on whether Sturridge can be the real deal for Chelsea, I still don't think a loan move would make any sense. At best, he can be a long term answer at right forward or centre forward. At worst... he's a backup striker. Or, in more obvious terms, a best case scenario is Nicolas Anelka, and a worst-case one is probably Salomon Kalou. What does that imply?

Chelsea are in a situation where they have too many non home-grown players to make significant additions to the roster. The most sensible approach to fixing that is to acquire home-grown players as backups to the stars, and the easiest way to do that is to use the players on the roster who are already good enough to make the bench. In other words, there's no reason to keep Kalou around as a backup in a world where we hold Sturridge's registration.

This isn't about how good Villas-Boas thinks Sturridge is right now. He's clearly in that zone somewhere between backup and starting player, and a better fix on his actual talent is somewhat irrelevant at this point. This is a simple question of roster construction, and freeing up an international player slot by promoting from the players we already have on hand is far more sensible than, oh, selling a centre back and replacing them with Gary Cahill.

The only reason to send Sturridge on loan at all would be if you think that he's not good enough to replace one of Kalou or Anelka, and I think taking that stance would be a little silly. If I had to guess, I'd say that Villas-Boas knows that as well and will just use this as a way of making him work harder in the preseason. I'd be utterly shocked if we started the season without Danny Sturridge on the roster.