Sturridge on a mission to rescue Anfield career
Out-of-favour Liverpool striker has a chance to save his club future when Mane leaves for international duty next month
There is unlikely to be a greater, or worse moment in Liverpool's season.
Amid the euphoria and billowing clouds of red smoke that greeted a late win over Everton, Juergen Klopp was forced to face up to a reality potentially as chilling as the Goodison Park air.
Few thrills are greater than capturing a last-minute victory in a Merseyside Derby, especially behind enemy lines in his side's final sign-off before Christmas, but the near future will have preoccupied the Reds manager as he prepares for life without Sadio Mane next month.
It was no secret that a time would come when Klopp would be forced to endure a period without Liverpool's most influential player.
Many expected that period to end with Philippe Coutinho's anticipated return from a recent spell on the sidelines later this month.
But Klopp has felt the absence of competence at the other end of the field far more than he has missed the Brazilian's assortment of skill and guile in attack over the previous four weeks.
Coutinho is a luxury player when stacked against Mane, whose 94th-minute strike helped close the gap on EPL leaders Chelsea to six points yesterday morning (Singapore time).
The latter's impending departure for the African Nations Cup will strip Liverpool of both the industry and energy provided by the Senegal winger at a time when they will arguably need it most.
That four-week period will be a defining barometer of whether Klopp is capable of, this term, delivering a long-awaited title to Anfield for the first time in more than two decades.
You have Daniel Sturridge on the bench, you always think, ‘Okay, when is the time, when can we bring him?’ He helped us a lot tonight in a very difficult game.Liverpool boss Juergen Klopp, on Daniel Sturridge, whose shot rebounded off the post before Sadio Mane tapped the ball in for the winner
During that period, they face, among others, Manchester United, Chelsea and the second leg of a League Cup semi-final against Southampton.
A trip to Old Trafford just hours before Mane kicks off his country's Group B opener against Tunisia is an imperfect start to proceedings.
Daniel Sturridge will think otherwise.
If the England international had been looking for a sign that suggests fighting to stay at Liverpool was still worthwhile, he was handed an early festive gift.
His return following a five-game absence was made all the more staggering by Klopp's admission that he had completed only two training sessions prior to his 18-minute cameo.
Had his shot not trickled back off Joel Robles' left-hand post, Sturridge's impact would have received far greater credit than merely paving the way for Mane's rebounded winner.
There is a reason for him being, statistically, Liverpool's most prolific goalscorer in the EPL era. He has missed more games than he has played.
He cannot even guarantee that his upcoming three-year anniversary at the club will not pass without a fresh addition to the 22 previous injuries which have plagued him.
Through it all, he has been both nurtured and challenged, by Klopp and Brendan Rodgers before him.
Consistency also remains another obstacle for Sturridge to overcome during his latest window of opportunity.
He has been guilty of allowing games to pass him by far too often whenever he isn't in the mood.
That regular sullenness is a trait he can currently ill-afford.
Filling the void left by Mane in the heartbeat of Liverpool's attack would be an onerous task for any player, especially when Klopp already knows what he has before it's gone.
For Sturridge, it is a mission which is twofold; his Anfield career now depends on it.