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Sturridge eager to forge Balotelli partnership

Sturridge has not featured for the Merseyside club since the end of August, having sustained a thigh problem while on international duty with England.

Following an initial six-week lay-off, Sturridge suffered a setback earlier this month and was ruled out for a further two to four weeks.

Brendan Rodgers' side have struggled for goals in his absence, with an out-of-sorts Balotelli coming in for criticism as he has failed to hit the ground running since arriving at Anfield from Milan.

Sturridge and Luis Suarez, now at Barcelona, were prolific for Liverpool last season as they finished second in the Premier League behind Manchester City.

And former Chelsea man Sturridge is eager to return to full fitness and link up with Balotelli, who came off the bench to score his second goal for Liverpool in a dramatic 2-1 League Cup win over Swansea City on Tuesday.

Sturridge told talkSPORT: "We get on well off the field and in the changing rooms. We're always laughing and joking,

"It's not hugely important to be friends to have a great [football] relationship with somebody, and if you're not friends you can still have a great partnership, but you can also be friends and have a great partnership.

"Once I get back fit I'm hoping we can strike up a partnership. Last season with Luis we had a great relationship up front and scored a lot of goals. Hopefully this season it will be the same.

Sturridge leapt to the defence of Balotelli, who was criticised for swapping shirts with Real Madrid defender Pepe last week during a UEFA Champions League clash.

"Mario has been under the microscope," he said. "That will always be the case when you play for a big club. You are going to have a lot of eyes on you.

"Mario's a great guy, and he's misunderstood sometimes. A lot of people are harsh on him. I get on really with him though. I have nothing but good words to say about him.

"He's working hard on the training field. People have told me he's working tirelessly to play the way we play.

"It’s difficult moving to a new club and having new team-mates, it doesn't just click straight away. Everybody is helping him and he's playing well. Sometimes you don't get the breaks in terms of scoring goals. Every striker goes through times when they don't score."