Ironically it was the England international’s substitution which allowed Balotelli to come off the bench and grab the winner – his first Premier League goal for the club – against Tottenham. However, in the reverse fixture on 31 August, Sturridge’s last start prior to Tuesday’s outing at Anfield, the pair played together and looked like they could become a useful pairing.
Sturridge’s five-month lay-off with a thigh injury did not help his team-mate, whose form plummeted so badly he could not get in the squad for three matches ahead of the visit of Spurs. But now both are fit, Balotelli has finally broken his league drought and Sturridge believes they can become a deadly duo.
“Course we can. I would say I can play with any player not just Mario,” he said. “Whatever team the manager chooses I will do my best to ensure whoever I am playing with I can have a partnership with. We click anyway when we play so for me I try to adapt to the player I am playing with and try to bring out the best in him.
“But it is not just about me trying to do what I do – in the Tottenham game [in August] I played a little bit differently to how I did on Tuesday. I know Philippe Coutinho likes to thread balls through so I had to play on the shoulder a bit more.
“With Mario I can move around and go into wide areas because I know he will occupy the centre-halves. You play differently with different players and I am sure we will strike up a partnership in the future, I have no doubts about that. He has been waiting for a while to break his duck but he has been working hard and I am sure things will start to go his way now.”
That partnership may not even get off the ground, however, if manager Brendan Rodgers sticks with the 3-4-3 formation which has been so successful over the last two months.
With Sturridge now back as the central striker it gives Liverpool a greater cutting edge but the 25-year-old knows he has to stay fit having been out of action for so long. He is keen to make up for lost time and admits he was frustrated when he was taken off after 74 minutes but accepts it was probably in his best interests.
“It comes with the territory of them [the backroom staff] just trying to do their job and protect me and I can’t argue with that, I have to take into account whatever they say,” he added.
“But it is frustrating because every minute counts and I have missed a lot of them so I want to be able to play as many as I can now. This was my first start in five months so for me it is just important to get minutes under my belt.
“I hate coming off but I am happy we won and I have to take each game as it comes but I feel I am ready to go now.” Sturridge may have lacked half-a-yard of pace against Tottenham but inside the box he looked sharp and had three or four chances, including one backheel which came back off the post.
He is keen to make up for lost time and having missed Liverpool’s entire Champions League campaign, which saw them exit at the group stage, he is determined to score the goals to fire them back into next year’s competition.
“That was probably the most frustrating thing for me watching from the sidelines seeing how unlucky we were not to advance in the competition,” he said.
“But we have the Europa League and also I am looking forward to hopefully getting into the top four and then I will be able to play my part in the Champions League next season.”