Belfast Telegraph

Gerrard seeking Europa League silver lining for Liverpool

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard wants to win the Europa League even though he admits it is not the club's priority.

The England midfielder echoed the sentiments of coach Roy Hodgson when he admitted the Barclays Premier League is the main focus after a disappointing seventh-placed finish last season.

But after four years without a trophy Gerrard is keen to bring some silverware back to Anfield and knows Europe represents as good a chance as any.

After getting through a play-off by completing a 3-1 aggregate victory over Trabzonspor in Turkey on Thursday night, for which the captain was left at home to recover from a back injury, the Reds have been pitted against Steaua Bucharest, Napoli and Celtic’s conquerors Utrecht in the group stages.

“It's a strong group and I'm certainly looking forward to the games,” he said.

“The media will make us early favourites I'm sure, because of our experience in the Champions League and last year in the Europa League.

“I'm confident we can get out of the group but it will be tough. The draw has given us some difficult challenges.

“I don't think the Europa League is the priority. Everybody knows that our league position, where we finish at the end of this year, is the priority. But it's another trophy, it's a big cup.

“We haven't won a trophy for four years now so it's important we put a good show on in all the cup competitions and try to reward the fans with a final.”

Meanwhile, UEFA chiefs have warned Juventus they will take tough action if their fans target Manchester City's new signing Mario Balotelli with racist abuse.

The Italian club were ordered to play a match behind closed doors last year after fans racially abused the striker during a Serie A game against his former club Inter.

City will face Juve in Europa League Group A along with Salzburg from Austria and Polish side Lech Poznan.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said: “They know that our disciplinary bodies are watching. There will be sanctions if racism is used.

“UEFA have a zero tolerance to racism. No one is getting away with anything do to with racism.”

Racist abuse of Balotelli in Italy surfaced after the striker, who is of Ghanaian descent, was selected for the national team and prompted the fan ban by an Italian judge.

Juventus chief executive Jean-Claude Blanc said Balotelli's return would offer fans the chance to prove they had changed.

Blanc said: “This will be the chance for the tifosi to demonstrate that the standard has been raised — hopefully fans will behave the way they should be behaving and supporting the team and only this.”

Manchester City's football administrator Brian Marwood said the club did not anticipate any targeting of Balotelli and that they were looking forward to the clashes with Juve.

Marwood said: “I'm sure Mario, like all of our players, will be relishing the opportunity. He's a young man with an incredibly bright future ahead of him and we will give him every support and help that he needs.

“We will leave it to the authorities to deal with anything that happens but we are not anticipating any issue.”

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