Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Gerrard leading Liverpool's charge: Benitez

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has called on captain Steven Gerrard to be the standard bearer as he leads his team into “battle” in the remainder of the season.

The England midfielder returned to form in Sunday's 3-0 home win over Sunderland having previously admitted he had failed to deliver this season.

Benitez had called for his “big names” to start setting an example for the rest of the squad and re-emphasised the point ahead of their difficult Europa League quarter-final first leg tie against Benfica in Lisbon.

And he tried to motivate the squad further by resorting to military terminology, likening Gerrard to a general striding out in front of his troops.

“The captain is a key player and if he goes forward and works very hard everyone will see this and everyone will follow him,” said the Spaniard.

“That is really important for the rest of the season, for the team and him also.

“It is important to have players pushing and working hard as it means the rest of the players will say ‘Okay, come on’.

“You know when you go into a battle the first one has the flag and everyone follows him and then it is easier.

“If you go with the flag and don't see anyone around you it is always more difficult to win.

“We will stick together and that is crucial for the rest of the season.”

Benitez played down the significance of Gerrard playing in his preferred central midfield role against the Black Cats, despite him looking a different player to the one who was so ineffectual in the defeat at Manchester United the previous weekend.

The Reds boss said he called in a number of players — including Gerrard — after that loss to speak to them and that appeared to have prompted the performance against Sunderland.

“We had a conversation on Monday after the defeat against United, with him and some other players, and it was a very good conversation,” added Benitez.

“I felt you could see the difference against Sunderland, with everyone pushing from the first minute and everything was positive.

“You can talk about positions — a lot of people like to talk about this — but the main thing was the attitude of the players as they were convinced we had to win and score goals.

“Now we have the majority of the senior players available maybe you can see the real Liverpool at this moment.”

About the only thing Benfica and Sunderland have in common is the name of their grounds and taking on the Portuguese league leaders in the Estadio da Luz tonight will be a formidable task.

Benfica were the side who ended Liverpool's hopes of being the first club to successfully defend their Champions League title when they won 1-0 and 2-0 at Anfield in the last 16 of the 2005/6 competition.

Those two games still frustrate Benitez but he knows he has a chance to rectify what he felt was bad luck in the coming two matches.

“It is important to approach the game with confidence,” said the Spaniard.

“Benfica are scoring goals and are top of their league so we know it will be difficult over two legs.

“But we can go with confidence knowing we can score — it is very important to score away.

“Benfica played Champions League in the past against us. They have experience and some good players.

“We also have experience at this level and it is an important game for both.

“I remember our last games against Benfica really well. We conceded in the 87th minute in Lisbon when Sami Hyypia slipped at a free-kick and Luisao scored.

“But before the game at home we had (international) friendlies in Senegal and Finland — one for John Arne Riise and one for Sami Hyypia.

“Both came back injured and we had to play with Stephen Warnock and Djimi Traore at centre-back.

“I think we are stronger now — but also they are stronger for me.”