Brendan Rodgers says it is “highly unlikely” that Daniel Sturridge will make a shock return for Liverpool against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday night.
he striker travelled with the rest of the Liverpool squad to the Spanish capital on Monday for the crucial Champions League match against the in-form holders, pointing towards a possible return for the 25-year-old from a calf injury.
Rodgers has poured cold water over an early return for the England striker, however, saying he included all of his squad in his travel plans to offer support in what is a huge match as his side look to bounce back from defeat against Carlo Ancelotti’s side a fortnight ago. "It's highly unlikely he'll be fit,” he said at the Bernabéu as Liverpool had a trained session at the home of the ten-times European champions. “I've brought all the players out. It's a sign we're very much together.”
Sturridge has played just four games so far this season owing to injury and Rodgers is desperate to see one of his key players return due to a lack of goals so far this term. He suffered a set-back with a calf injury and is also expected to miss the weekend match against Chelsea in the Premier League.
Summer signing Mario Balotelli has failed to score a Premier League goal since his arrival from Milan but Rodgers says the Italian is “working hard” in his quest to succeed at Anfield. “At this moment in time, he is doing his best,” he said. “He hasn't got the goals that he, and we, would have liked. He just needs to keep focused on giving his best every time he's on the field. That's all we can ask.”
Liverpool opened their Champions League campaign with a last-gasp victory over minnows Ludogorets but have lost both matches since and are tied on three points with the Bulgarians and Basel, while a win for Ancelotti’s side would see them progress to the knockout stage with two games still to spare.
Rodgers says Madrid are the best team in the world at the moment but the occasion will be one to enjoy, not to fear. “We’re really looking forward to these big games, we see them as an opportunity,” he said "We're still in the hunt in the group. They’re probably the best team in the world at the moment, but we can challenge them.”
The greatest challenge will be that of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is just one goal away from levelling Raul’s long-standing record of having scored the most goals in the competition. The Portuguese talisman is currently on 70, one behind the Spain legend, and the former Manchester United man is in the form of his life going into the match thanks to netting a record-breaking 17 goals in nine La Liga matches so far this season.
“He is probably the best player in the world at the moment,” said Rodgers. The 29-year-old caused Liverpool all kinds of problems at Anfield two weeks ago and got on the scoresheet for the first time after firing blanks at the home of his rivals during his days with Manchester United.
Madrid are enjoying a run of eleven straight victories in all competitions, scoring 46 goals along the way to top La Liga edge to within one win of progression in the Champions League. The run is Ancelotti’s best since arriving in the Spanish capital and he will be out to make that 12 on Tuesday night.