Daniel Sturridge is barely two weeks back from a three-month layoff due to recurring injuries, and the 25-year-old forward is already helping to turn around Liverpool’s previously spiraling-out-of-control season, as evidenced in their 2-1 FA Cup victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday.
[ ROUNDUP: All of Saturday’s FA Cup action ]
Also making a significant contribution off the bench for the second game in a row? Mario Balotelli, who came on at halftime and, when partnered with Sturridge, helped tilt the game massively in Liverpool’s favor.
Sturridge scored four minutes after halftime to draw Liverpool level with Palace. Adam Lallana scored the game-winner right before the hour mark, and now Liverpool find themselves two wins away from an FA Cup final in legendary captain Steven Gerrard’s final season with the club (this year’s final will be played May 30, Gerrard’s 35th birthday).
Rodgers, on Sturridge’s stellar performance and working back from injury, from ESPN FC:
“He’s working his way back, it’s just about extending his game time. I’ve got to do that because you risk re-injuring him and that’s something we can’t afford.
“You can see his qualities — his speed, his touch and he doesn’t need too many chances to score. He should have had a penalty today, it looked a clear penalty, he looks really bright.
“The team is functioning at a high level at the moment and him coming back gives us a big boost in this part of the season.”
Rodgers, on Balotelli’s growing influence in recent days and a tactical shift:
“He’s training well now and he’s starting to really work and focus on his job and the team. The other night he came on and got the winner and did very well, and I thought he came on and did very well today.
“He showed good strength and power to win the free kick and then a terrific strike forces the keeper to make a save and Adam puts in the finish.”
“We played a diamond earlier in the season and those two played together and did very well. We’ve shifted the system from the last time we were here but certainly when [Sturridge and Balotelli] are up there, they’re a threat.
“They’re both talented players so they can function in whatever system they’re in.”
Could Sturridge and Balotelli be Brendan Rodgers’s new lethal strike duo capable of pushing the Reds back into a Champions League place, replacing Sturridge and Luis Suarez, who together pushed Liverpool to within two points of last year’s Premier League title?