LIVERPOOL, England — Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is closing in on a return to action after more than four months out injured but Mario Balotelli's exile from the first team is set to continue.
Sturridge, who has been out since August, will make his comeback in next weekend's home match against West Ham in the English Premier League, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said on Saturday.
"He starts training tomorrow with the team," Rodgers said. "He's in his final rehabilitation with the medical and sports science guys today. He joins in with the group now, and it's just about getting football fitness and game fitness."
Rodgers said the second leg of the League Cup semifinal against Chelsea on Tuesday may come too soon for Sturridge.
Balotelli has been out of favor with Rodgers because of the Italy international's lack of work rate, with the manager preferring a more mobile frontline in recent weeks.
Balotelli was available after illness for the FA Cup fourth-round match against Bolton, which finished 0-0 at Anfield, but wasn't even selected in the matchday squad.
"I'm judging it every day in training. Mario is exactly the same as every other player, there's no special treatment for anyone," Rodgers said.
"We've made a change structurally in the team for the pressing and creativity to come back. He is a player that will work very hard now to get back in, but it doesn't matter who the player is or what he was bought for; this is a collective that is about the team, and if you want to contribute then you have to be at it every single day in training in order to be in the squad on matchday.
"He's naturally been a box player," Rodgers said about Balotelli, whom he spoke with for an hour on Friday. "There is much more asked at this team and in the intensity of the team."
Balotelli hasn't scored a Premier League goal for Liverpool since joining from AC Milan in the summer transfer window in August.
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