For most of the season, Liverpool was operating either with an off-form, square-peg-round-hole striker in the starting eleven or, most recently, a 20-year-old winger deputizing as a number nine. The latter brought more success than the former, but it was a temporary measure meant to stall until one of the aforementioned strikers found form or Daniel Sturridge got healthy.
As it turned out, both happened around the same time, with Mario Balotelli making great strides right as Sturridge was once again available. The oft-injured frontman has scored twice since returning, but he's also looked leggy and rusty, which is frustrating but not entirely unexpected given the length of time he was out. That he scored so quickly upon returning spoiled a fanbase that had been waiting to see him in action for what seemed like an eternity, as difficulties getting back up to speed were always likely.
And now, on the cusp of their second match in four days, Brendan Rodgers has underlined the need for patience as his star striker works his way back to full form and fitness:
"Daniel had given everything in the game. This is a player coming back from five months out injured. We have to be really, really careful he doesn't break. Daniel's history shows that. There has been very little training in between games. He had no more left in his legs and we needed to take him off to prevent him getting an injury when he was very tired."
That should, as expected, leave Sturridge on the bench to start tomorrow's crunch encounter with Manchester City, when a win could see Liverpool climb as high as joint-fourth on points depending on the result of the Arsenal-Everton match later in the day. It would be ideal to have him ready from the start, but that's just not the reality yet, and with physical fatigue very likely after the 106 minutes he played on Thursday night, Rodgers' caution is more than justified.
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