Brendan Rodgers has no intention of gambling on the fitness of Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge at Sunderland on Saturday.
Sturridge spent the Christmas and New Year period in the United States continuing treatment on a troublesome calf injury that has sidelined him since the end of August.
But he is scheduled to fly back to the UK on Friday and should resume training this weekend.
With Liverpool having struggled for much of Sturridge's absence, Rodgers may have been tempted to put the England international straight back into his squad.
But the Reds boss will take a cautious approach and instead hopes to have Sturridge, who has scored 32 league goals in 40 career starts for his club, back in his line-up before the end of the month.
"He will be back in the country in the next 24 hours to go into final stages of his rehab," Rodgers said.
"The work he has done in America has been fantastic, specialising in the rehabilitation and he will now come back –- hopefully in some part of January.
"He is a top class player with a wonderful idea of the game and wonderful qualities. His pace is frightening and his movement.
"As a footballer he is at a great age and if he can stay fit he can lead the charge for us.
"It is difficult to focus on a date, we just need to assess. We've been monitoring his situation and he looks in a good moment."
- Gerrard 'rift' -
Rodgers was less forthcoming over the latest reports of his supposed strained relationship with Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard.
Gerrard has confirmed he will leave at the end of the season, but the midfielder says he would have stayed at Anfield had he been offered a new deal last year -- a claim to which Rodgers would not respond.
"There is nothing more to add," said Rodgers. "Everything has been said on that situation that needs to be said. Steven spoke openly and honestly on it.
"He elaborated, he is happy where he is at and where he is going, done all the interviews.
"There is no doubt Steven is still a top class player and has been that world class player for many years and him moving on leaves a void on and off the pitch.
"But the club has to keep moving forward to bring the best players we can to this wonderful football club. It's an opportunity for other players to grab the mantra."
Meanwhile, Rodgers expects a tough task in breaking down a Sunderland side that earned a creditable goalless draw at Anfield as recently as the start of December.
"They're a team that's very difficult to break down," he said. "They have good players, as they have shown over the course of the season so far
"But that's our job, to go there and put on a performance to get the three points.
"A place in the top four is still going to be tough, we do respect that, but we're looking forward to that challenge in the second half of the season."
Connor Wickham insists Liverpool hold no fears for Sunderland and believes Gus Poyet's side can improve on last month's draw with Rodgers' side.
Liverpool have struggled to fill the void left by the departure to Barcelona of prolific forward Luis Suarez and with Sturridge's fitness also a problem, Wickham said: "Maybe people can say Liverpool aren't the team they were last year. They're missing players.
"We probably should have taken three points from Anfield not so long ago and now it's down to us to do that on our ground this time."
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