Sturridge is the gift that needs to keep on giving for Liverpool this festive season

The derby is only the second game the England star has ever played for the Reds in December, with his availability a massive bonus for Tuesday's encounter with Stoke City

COMMENT

When Gini Wijnaldum switched a fine lofted ball to Nathaniel Clyne out on the right for the defender to then roll to Daniel Sturridge, the striker was not thinking "one more pass".

Liverpool atmosphere 'similar' to Dortmund - Klopp

Instead, he cut onto his left foot, dragging an exhausted Leighton Baines across the area, before creating space for a 20-yard shot that evaded four Everton defenders as well as a diving Joel Robles, en route to striking the post.

The effort was scuffed, but with just four minutes remaining in the Merseyside derby and the scores goalless, it was exactly what Liverpool needed as Sadio Mane reacted sharpest to convert the rebound.

Sturridge forced the space, forced the goal, and forced the delirium among the away end at Goodison Park, which will long live in the fixture’s storied history. 

He wasn't happy to wait for the moment, he was determined to make it. And as third-placed Liverpool look upwards, planning to punch through the packed festive schedule, Sturridge’s appetite to be the difference can prove decisive. 

Owing to injuries, the Reds have never before been able to count his abilities as a blessing during this period. Apart from his cameo against Everton - returning to the squad having missed five consecutive games with a calf issue - the 27-year-old has only ever played one other fixture for the club in December. 

That was at the start of the month last year, when he was introduced on 62 minutes with Liverpool dire in a 2-0 defeat at Newcastle. 

The club have gone through this crucial part of the football calendar in seasons past wondering: what if Sturridge had been available?

And the forward finally has the opportunity to answer that question. He may not yet have scored in the Premier League in 2016-17, but he has four goals having started five games across all competitions. 

Beyond the numbers though, is the undisputed fact that he is an elite player, an expert finisher and a match winner.

Against Stoke City at Anfield on Tuesday evening, Sturridge may not be in the starting XI with his fellow attackers fitter after completing more sessions and games, but Mark Hughes will be as perturbed as Ronald Koeman was to see him in reserve for Liverpool.

And should he continue to quicken the pulse in training, he could be in line to start the New Year’s Eve hosting of his former club Manchester City. 

That he is available - whether as a substitute or a starter - is  “massive”, as per captain Jordan Henderson's description.

Liverpool’s stellar start to the campaign has been built on the collective, but the second half of their season can be strengthened by Sturridge’s dash of individualism. 

Liverpool Team News: Injuries, suspensions and line-up vs Stoke

With Mane soon off to the African Nations Cup and Philippe Coutinho continuing his rehabilitation from ankle ligament damage, the England international can be the gift that keeps on giving for Liverpool in the festive pile-up.

’Tis the season for Sturridge to twist opposition defences in acts of folly.