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.
The 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.”
Video: Real Madrid vs Liverpool match preview
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.”
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3 player ratings
Liverpool 0 Real Madrid 3 player ratings
1/22 Liverpool: Simon Mignolet
Could do nothing about the first two goals but the third was a defensive mess. Made one very fine save from Cristiano Ronaldo - 6/10
2/22 Glen Johnson
If it was not Ronaldo sprinting down Real's left, it was full-back Marcelo, adding up to a difficult night for Johnson, who also allowed Karim Benzema a free header for the second goal - 5
3/22 Martin Skrtel
Beaten by the brilliance of Ronaldo for the first goal then outmuscled by Pepe for the third - 5
4/22 Dejan Lovren
This was a thoroughly uncomfortable night for the Liverpool defence as a whole, but Lovren fared a little better than his team-mates - 6
5/22 Alberto Moreno
An early threat going forward but given a tough time by Real's attacking triumvirate - 5
6/22 Jordan Henderson
Worked hard but gave the ball away too often as Real overpowered Liverpool in midfield - 5
7/22 Steven Gerrard
Began brightly and tested Iker Casillas with a fine shot in the 11th minute. Thereafter occupied trying to stifle Real's attacking threat - 6
8/22 Joe Allen
Had one of Liverpool's better efforts on goal in the first half but outclassed in midfield - 5
9/22 Raheem Sterling
Looked Liverpool's most dangerous attacker, with his pace troubling Real, but too often had to try to do the whole lot himself - 6
10/22 Mario Balotelli
Retained despite heavy criticism but very ineffective and hauled off at half-time - 4
11/22 Philippe Coutinho
Looked bright to start with before fading as Real took over. Hit the post with a fine effort at the end of the first half before being substituted in the second - 5
12/22 Iker Casillas
The veteran Spain goalkeeper was making his 143th Champions League appearance, equalling all-time record holder Xavi. His form has been shaky but dealt with the few threats that came his way very capably - 6
13/22 Alvaro Arbeloa
The former Liverpool full-back enjoyed a good tussle with Sterling and then Lallana - 6
14/22 Raphael Varane
Not too much to worry about for the young French defender - 6
Set up the third goal with his persistence and had a comfortable night in defence - 6
A real presence in Real's attack and Liverpool did not manage to exploit the gaps he left - 7
A fine, energetic performance from the midfielder - 7
18/22 Luka Modric
Instrumental in Real's control of the midfield - 8
19/22 Toni Kroos
Immaculate in front of the back four and set up Benzema's goal with a fine cross. Booked for fouling Sterling - 8
20/22 James Rodriguez
Had to be patched up after an early blow to the head and had done little until his lovely chip set up Ronaldo - 7
21/22 James Rodriguez
Two goals for the Frenchman and it might have been more - 8
22/22 Cristiano Ronaldo
The former Manchester United man, not surprisingly, was greeted by plenty of boos. He had scored more goals this season than Liverpool's entire team and it took him only 23 minutes to add another sublime strike. A constant threat and substituted with Saturday's Clasico in mind - 8
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.
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