Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is convinced the return of Raheem Sterling will give his side lift-off as they look to push for a European place in the second half of the Barclays Premier League season.
Sterling missed Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Sunderland on Saturday after being rewarded for his tireless contribution over the Christmas period with a two-week break in the Caribbean.
But Rodgers believes the 20-year-old’s scheduled comeback against Aston Villa next weekend will coincide with the start of a run-in which will end frustration over the Reds’ relatively inconsistent start to the campaign.
Rodgers said: “I felt if we are going to get the best out of Raheem he is going to need a little bit of a rest and he will come back next week.
“The exciting thing is we have always been better in the second half of the season and that is the business end.
“We will get Raheem back fresh and (Daniel) Sturridge back fresh and we also have Adam Lallana to come back - so it is going the way I hoped it would.”
A ninth minute goal from Lazar Markovic proved enough for Rodgers’ men to win a largely forgettable encounter with the ailing Black Cats, whose woe was heightened by the 49th minute sending-off of Liam Bridcutt for two bookable offences.
Markovic almost added to his clinical opener when he fired another first half effort against the crossbar from long range, but Sunderland briefly rallied after the red card and Adam Johnson’s rising 25-yard effort also struck the bar.
Markovic’s impressive performance was another tonic for Rodgers who can see the return of his big names being backed up by the increasing confident performances of his new squad members.
“Lazar has been very, very good for us in the last six or seven weeks so it is just taking time,” added Rodgers.
“Emre Can and Alberto Moreno have also taken time coming to a new country with a big spotlight on them because of what we did last year, but now they are starting to settle into the philosophy of how we play.”
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet insisted he is “not concerned” by his side’s appalling home form, which has yielded a single victory in the top flight so far this season - but is frustrated by his inability to get his best out of his players.
Poyet said: “I am disappointed because I thought by now I would have a better impact on how the team plays but unfortunately I was wrong.
“It is getting more difficult than what I thought. Some players are taking longer to do the basics and we need to do more work. It is too easy to blame somebody else - it is about selecting better and making sure most are back (from injury).”
Spanish attacking midfielder Suso appears set to leave Liverpool at the end of his contract in the summer, having had an offer from AC Milan.
The 21-year-old was filmed by Sky Sports Italia in Milan, and quoted by news agency ANSA as saying: “I’m happy to come to Milan. I haven’t yet spoken to (coach Filippo) Inzaghi. I’m here for the medical and I hope it’s going to go well.”