Liverpool fans must remain realistic about the pending return of striker Daniel Sturridge - that is the warning from manager Brendan Rodgers.
The front man, who was one of the lead men in the Reds' near league-winning season last term, has been out of action since August with thigh and calf injuries but was pictured taking part in training at Melwood on Thursday.
The sight of Sturridge back on the pitch will come to the immense relief to fans who have endured a difficult season up to date. Liverpool lie eighth in the table five points behind fourth-placed Manchester United and 17 points behind current leaders Chelsea.
A boost in front of goal
But after the giddy heights the team achieved last season scoring over 100 goals in the process it has been the lack of composure in front of goal that has cost the Anfield side this term.
Since Sturridge's absence, following the impressive 3-0 away win at Tottenham, Liverpool have netted only 38 goals in 28 games in all competitions compared to 50 in 22 games over the same period last season.
Given also the defensive frailties Liverpool have had this term with 42 goals conceded so far this season, fans are hoping having Sturridge, who scored 28 goals last season as part of his successful partnership with the now Barcelona striker Luis Suarez, back will help improve the team's firepower in front of goal.
“Just having him back on the field to begin with will be critical to the team because I think his threat is obvious"
But Rodgers has admitted Kopites should not start expecting the goals to start flowing as they did so easily it seemed last season upon Sturridge's return.
“People do have to be more realistic,” Rodgers told ESPN. “It will take him time. First he has to get fit, generally. Fortunately, his body [allows him to regain fitness]. But there’s match fitness, football fitness, so it will take a wee bit of time.
“Just having him back on the field to begin with will be critical to the team because I think his threat is obvious. It’s the only way we will get him back up to speed.”
Finding a long-term solution
The frustration at the length of Sturridge's absence has been clear for fans and Rodgers alike with a return from the initial calf injury in November then halted by the thigh strain that has kept him out since.
The England striker spent the festive period away in the USA in a quest to find out why he was so injury prone and Rodgers says he is focussing on ensuring a long-term solution for Sturridge's problems rather than rushing him back onto the pitch.
“It's been our job over the last number of months to find that solution for him,” he explained. “We have called in experts from different parts of the world so we are hoping it will allow him to stay fit for longer and a more consistent period. Let's hope that will be the case.”
No Villa return
While a return against Aston Villa on Saturday is unexpected, Liverpool are boosted ahead of their trip to Villa Park as Raheem Sterling returns from his relaxation break in Jamaica and could likely play just behind Fabio Borini as the Italian enjoys a surprise spell in the starting XI with Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert both failing to perform in Liverpool's current 3-4-3 formation.
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