Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Hell of a mess: Rodgers admits Liverpool only click when 'heaven-sent' Steven ... -

Even before Liverpool's FA Cup humiliation, Brendan Rodgers knew how far his team still have to travel... because Steven Gerrard remains irreplaceable.

Reds manager Rodgers restores his skipper to the starting line-up for Wednesday night's face-saving mission to Arsenal, having admitted he is no closer to finding a way his team can function in the England midfielder's absence.

Gerrard has played every minute of every Premier League game this season, and has been part of a quiet revolution at Anfield that has seen the team overcome early struggles with a new style to creep into top four contention.

When he has been rested in the cup games, it has been a different story.

Liverpool's Sunday shambles put the matter into stark perspective as the match against Oldham turned in the Reds' favour the minute substitute Gerrard stepped on to the pitch.

And Rodgers admits he still has a massive job on his hands, merely to get to the point where the club can cope without the man who has carried this team on his back for many years now.

"I'd love to say that we would be alright without him, but unfortunately at this stage I can't because I don't believe we would," the Liverpool manager explained.

"Steven Gerrard is a unique player. When he came on at Oldham it was like someone had dropped him from Heaven, because we went to a totally different level.

"With each day that goes on you see the real importance he still has to the club. At 32 years of age, he still looks so fit, strong and you can see his influence on the team. As a captain he's been phenomenal.

"We are under no illusions because the Oldham game made it clear in terms of the depth of the squad the problems we have when we have to change the team around.

"Oldham was a rude awakening, but we knew the situation with the squad."

Rodgers spoke passionately after the cup exit about the need for the young team he fielded at Boundary Park - with eight players under the age of 23 - to learn from the "enthusiasm and desire" of their captain to perform in every game.

Gerrard transformed the team when he came on with half an hour remaining, and almost pulled off a great escape when his last minute shot crashed off the underside of the bar.

For the Reds boss, he is simply indispensable and that is why Rodgers is pushing hard to ensure that, even with his 33rd birthday on the horizon, the midfielder will get a new contract when his current deal expires at the end of the 2014 season.

"Steven and I have spoken a number of times (about a contract), but as yet I don't believe anything has been done. His feeling the last time we spoke was get through this season and see how that goes," the Reds boss added.

"His focus is on really helping the group to go forward. There's no doubt that between now and the end of this season the contract will be looked at."

There have been some fears expressed by fans that the club's American owners will stick rigidly to their policy of investing only in young players with sell-on potential, and that could see Gerrard face similar problems to Frank Lampard at Chelsea.

But Rodgers insisted principle owners John Henry and Tom Werner are fully aware of the captain's importance to the side, and only have to watch Wednesday's game at the Emirates to gauge his value going forward.

"The owners can see for themselves, they watch all the games from afar. They understand and I have regular dialogue with them," the manager added.

"I can only feedback in terms of his qualities both as a player and as a leader of the club, so it's not like they don't get to know about it. Between now and the end of the season we will have a clear look at that (a contract) for sure."

Thumbs up: Jose Enrique is among the first-teamers returning against Arsenal


Liverpool face a very different test in North London from the physical examination they failed miserably at Oldham, but the manager believes it is not physical strength that is lacking in his side, but merely the right mental approach.

And he has demanded they responding this evening, with a win that would put them level on points with Arsenal, just behind the top four.

"I don't think that as a team we are physically light or short in anyway. I think it's mental and that's something we need to improve - we have to be more consistent.

"These opening months have been fantastic in terms of learning about players. Certainly, come the summer time we'll be in a better position to know what we need in the group."

Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique will return from injury against Arsenal and, with Gerrard and Lucas restored, Rodgers is hoping for an immediate response from his side.

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