Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers heaped praise on Daniel Sturridge after his side's 2-0 win over West Ham United on Saturday, after the striker marked his return from injury with a fine finish.
The 25-year-old had been out since September and after a frustrating spell for the player and the club, Sturridge finally returned to the squad as he started on the bench. After coming on in the 68th minute, it took him just 12 minutes before announced his return with a goal, and Rodgers was keen to remind reporters that the "lethal" forward is a vital asset for his side.
“It was nice for him," a happy Rodgers said talking of Sturridge's 80th minute strike. "He has obviously been out a long time and worked very hard."
"Now it's about managing his game time and introduction into the team. You can see it will have to be a gradual return. But it's better he scored than he didn't!" Rodgers joked.
The Ulsterman added: "I am delighted for him. When he is in that area, he has shown for us over the last two years that he is lethal. It was a great first touch and he has great power off both sides.
“He has come back into the fold and it’s just managing that integration into the team. I know he is really excited about coming into this team to play. I know he is really excited about coming into this team.”
The Liverpool manager was thoroughly impressed with his entire squad, as the Reds moved two points ahead of West Ham United to go 7th in the Premier League, sitting just four points away from the Champions League spots.
“I thought Adam Lallana was brilliant today; young Coutinho’s two passes were phenomenal," said Rodgers. "Raheem is an outstanding talent and it was a very good finish by him,” he added, speaking of the 20-year-old who opened the scoring six minutes after the break.
“Young Jordon Ibe, Alberto Moreno – players that are improving and young players that are getting better. Then the two guys behind that, Jordan [Henderson] and Lucas Leiva, were brilliant in the defensive controlling role," he continued.
"The three centre-halves and goalkeeper were excellent. I’m excited about the whole collective, there are talents throughout the team, young players that are developing very quickly. It’s good to see."
Rodgers was particularly pleased with his side's emphatic performance given the fact that a similar starting eleven had played an intensely-fought 120 minutes only four days prior, against Chelsea in the Capital One Cup.
"On the back of 120 minutes in the week, we knew today was going to be a tough game. After the first 15 to 20 minutes when we had to compete and battle physically, the players earned the right to play and some of our football, on a really difficult surface, was outstanding," said Rodgers.
"In the second half we controlled the game and got our goals and maybe could have had a few more. I'm very pleased. Offensively we were bright, and we had real good tactical discipline in the team."
The 2-0 win over the Hammers was Liverpool's third successive victory in the league, the first time they had managed to do so since that incredible 11-game winning streak last season, whilst the game also marked their third successive Premier League clean sheet - their eighth in the top flight this season, something Rodgers was keen to highlight post-match.
"Defensively when we had to deal with the pressure, Sakho was really impressive today. Simon Mignolet dealt with things in the box, and there were a lot of aerial duels and we stood up to that very, very well.
"We pressed the game well and got our reward for that. It was an outstanding performance."
Rodgers also spoke about the absence of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, who sat in the stands for the victory against Sam Allardyce's side. The Northern Irishman revealed that leaving him out was a precautionary measure after the skipper complained of tightness in his hamstring after playing for 120 minutes against Chelsea in mid-week.
The Liverpool boss did go on to say Gerrard is in line to make his 700th appearance for the club on Wednesday, when the Reds face Bolton Wanderers in a FA Cup fourth-round replay.
"It was just precautionary, really," Rodgers told reporters after the West Ham game. "After the game the other night, his hamstring was tight. BWe've got a lot of games over the coming months, so we didn't want to risk it when we have other players that are fresh. Steven will be available for the replay."