For most of the season, Liverpool supporters have been left to wonder how their side would have fared if Daniel Sturridge was available. Through three matches with him included Liverpool had won two, against Southampton and Spurs, and give a decent account of themselves for the first 45 minutes against Manchester City. Since his injury--suffered on international duty with England in early September--Liverpool haven't been the same, with their attack struggling to find goals with any sort of regularity.
Rickie Lambert, Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, and, most recently, Raheem Sterling, have tried to fill in for the man who finished last season second in goalscoring behind teammate Luis Suarez, and while they've at least been available for selection, none possess the combination of qualities that makes Sturridge so special. Liverpool could have used those qualities on Sunday evening in a match that saw them falter once they reached the edge of the final third, and it's not ridiculous to suggest that Sturridge's presence could have had a decisive impact in a match like today's.
Brendan Rodgers didn't hesitate to comment on the striker's expected return post-match, providing both hope and a stark reminder of the qualities Liverpool missed on the day:
"That will probably be just after the Christmas period. The first phase of his rehab was out in LA where we did some specific work with him there. He's gone to Boston to pick up the next stage, then he'll move on again to a specialist facility out there and hopefully in the early part of the New Year he'll be back and be somewhere close to being fit and playing. At some stage in January, we'll look to get Dan back. That will be really exciting for this team. We'll put him into the mix again and go back to that flow of our game and results, hopefully."
A January return "at some stage" could mean only one or or two (or hopefully zero) matches missed, but with progress to the semifinals of the League Cup secured, Liverpool are now set for seven fixtures in another exhausting month. Back by February means Europa League participation, however, and for a player who cruelly missed out on a chance to play in the Champions League, that will hopefully provide some consolation.
Whenever Liverpool do end up welcoming Daniel Sturridge back from injury, it'll be cause for celebration, and ideally the last time they'll have to do so.