(REUTERS) - Liverpool would have made it to the Champions League had striker Daniel Sturridge not been injured last season, says manager Brendan Rodgers.
Sturridge, who was out for five months after undergoing hip surgery, highlighted his importance after he scored a brace in the Reds' 3-2 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, their first Premier League victory in more than a month.
"Before the Aston Villa game, we hadn't scored three goals since he has been out of the side," Rodgers said.
"He is a fantastic talent and now the job is to ensure that hopefully he can stay fit."
The England international enjoyed a breakout season for Liverpool in 2013-14, scoring 28 goals in 33 appearances as the club just missed out on a first league title since 1990.
Injuries, though, meant he made just 18 appearances for Liverpool last campaign. He scored five times as the club finished a disappointing sixth in the league.
Rodgers was sure, when asked by reporters, that a fully fit Sturridge would have meant a top-four finish last term.
"Yes - because he is in that elite band of players that we've seen here. We've seen here the brand of football that we can create when we have that talent available.
"He played a massive part in that so, if he stays fit, and others come into the reckoning, we can piece together an exciting team again. Those players make the difference."
Liverpool, who are five points behind leaders Manchester United in seventh, face a Merseyside derby against Everton on Sunday.