Brendan Rodgers expects Luis Suárez to be fit enough to make a "seamless" return for Liverpool when his 10-match suspension expires in time for next week's Capital One Cup tie against Manchester United.
Suárez serves the final game of his ban for biting the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic against Southampton on Saturday and is being considered for an immediate recall in the fourth-round clash at Old Trafford on Wednesday. The Uruguay international's availability is timely after Philippe Coutinho was ruled out until the end of October with a shoulder injury sustained at Swansea City.
Liverpool's leading striker has not played competitively for his club since the Ivanovic incident on 21 April but did feature in the Confederations Cup in June plus Uruguay's recent World Cup qualifiers against Peru and Columbia. He has also been involved in several behind-closed-doors matches with Liverpool, the latest coming on Wednesday against Burnley.
Rodgers has refused to guarantee Suárez will start against United, saying only that a potentially explosive return against Liverpool's great rivals and Patrice Evra – who he was found guilty of using racially abusive language towards and banned for eight matches in 2011 – "would be something to consider".
The 26-year-old, however, has worked towards a late-September return all summer, including during his failed attempts to secure a transfer to Arsenal, and the Liverpool manager is confident the striker can make an instant impression.
"We have been organising some games behind closed doors, both in terms of in-house 11-a-side matches and bringing teams in," explained Rodgers. "In between that he has had international games as well to keep him ticking along. He has been doing a lot of individual work specific to him on top of all that and replicating his high-intensity speed runs that he would do in a game.
"It is not the same as playing in a match but say he did 1,000 high-intensity runs in a game, he has been replicating that in training so that he is at a level where we hope he will hit the ground running. There are always other things in a game – the crowd and the anxiety that you cannot replicate in training – but what you can at least do is get him to a level of fitness so that his numbers are replicated and that keeps him at a high level."
The Liverpool manager does not envisage shifting Daniel Sturridge from a central striking role to accommodate Suárez, with the England international flourishing in that position and scoring six goals in five matches this season. But Rodgers has been encouraged by Suárez's response in training following the distractions of the summer's transfer saga.
He added: "The idea is that hopefully when he steps back in it will be seamless. Of course there will be a transitional period for him but I am really looking forward to having him back. He is working his socks off. At the end of sessions, he is having extra work tagged on relative to him and his position. He is flushing himself out to the maximum to be as fit as he possibly can. I am looking forward to it."
Suárez has attended Liverpool games at Anfield this season but Rodgers has kept the striker away from the squad on match-days, particularly on away trips, to avoid increasing the striker's frustration at his ban. "You have to look at the individual," the manager explained. "Defenders enjoy being in and around the team all the time but strikers are different, I think. They don't miss playing more than others, but it can be counterproductive having them in and around the team if they're not playing.
"Suárez loves the game. If he doesn't play the game, it kills him. Any kid when they start to play, the integral part of it all is the game and that is what he is like. If you put him in the environment of the changing room when he can't play it can be counterproductive. We have to keep him out of the way."
The Premier League leaders, meanwhile, suffered a fresh injury setback on Wednesday when Coutinho was ruled out for at least one month with a shoulder injury. The influential Brazilian is to undergo surgery on the problem sustained during Monday's 2-2 draw at Swansea, when he landed awkwardly following a foul by Ashley Williams.
Coutinho is not expected to return until late October, meaning the £8.5m capture from Internazionale is scheduled to miss Premier League games against Southampton, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Newcastle United, plus the United cup tie. Liverpool confirmed in a statement: "After being assessed by the Reds medical staff, it's been decided that Coutinho will now have surgical stabilisation on the AC joint in his shoulder. Liverpool hope to have the 21-year-old back in contention again towards the end of October."
Rodgers has also lost Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho to ankle injuries in recent weeks while Daniel Agger missed the Swansea game having suffered a freak rib injury in training. The Danish defender damaged his side trying to prevent a dumbbell falling on his foot and remains a doubt for Southampton's visit to Anfield.