Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp believes Daniel Sturridge is now ready to be unleashed to help their final push for Champions League qualification.
The England international has not played 90 minutes since the 1-1 draw with Chelsea 366 days ago but is in contention to start at West Ham on Sunday, with the Reds needing two wins to guarantee a top-four spot.
Sturridge has made two substitute appearances totalling 27 minutes since mid-April after a hip problem, but offered a glimpse of how to unlock stubborn defences when he came off the bench during last weekend’s frustrating goalless draw at home to Southampton.
He could be the key to unlocking West Ham, who have kept four clean sheets in their last five matches, on Sunday. And with fellow forward Roberto Firmino a doubt with a muscle injury, his return to full fitness is timely.
Asked how ready the 27-year-old was to be picked from the start, Klopp said: “Ready. That is good.
“So far it’s been difficult because you can’t start a player then have to think after 40 minutes ‘so we have to change?’
“I was happy to have the opportunity to bring him on the pitch. Top players so they have impact.
“Now the situation is different again. It’s another week we’ve had him training and so far so good, so hopefully we have a few options.”
On his impact against Southampton, where he almost created a goal for himself out of nothing, Klopp added: “That is Daniel. If he had not been fit it would not have been possible. That is unfortunately how it is.
“Even Daniel Sturridge cannot perform (when he is) like this so he needs a physical situation.
“Daniel is a wonderful option to have but it is all about being fit or not.
“It is not the name we bring on the pitch, it is the player, the human being, in this specific shape.
“When he was fit he was always a real, real, real option for us. And it is again now like this.
“It is really good timing.”
Firmino’s training has been managed for several weeks now because of the Brazil international’s heavy workload, but he and compatriot Lucas Leiva are doubtful for the weekend.
“We are struggling a little bit with Roberto again and Lucas Leiva this week,” said Klopp.
“After the (Southampton) game they felt something, we have to wait and see what they can do there.
“For a few weeks we have had to manage Roberto’s intensity in training. He feels another muscle a little bit.
“Roberto is a real mentality player, he wants always to be involved and we need to make decisions for him.
“We left him out of training and have to wait and give him as much time as possible. Both him and Lucas played 90 minutes.
“We asked a few times ‘Are you okay?’ and they said ‘Yes’, then after the game they felt it.
“Lucas felt two different muscles after the game. He could be back in training today and Roberto tomorrow if possible.”