Belfast Telegraph

Kenny Dalglish: Liverpool can go on without Steven Gerrard

By Ian Herbert

Kenny Dalglish has said that Liverpool must not bank on Steven Gerrard to lift the club closer to their cherished top-four finish in the Premier League or to resolve a goals total which he admits is not acceptable.

The 31-year-old club captain is finally restored to Dalglish's ranks after a miserable 2011 in which he featured in just 12 League fixtures.

While his return offers some compensation for the possible eight-game absence of Luis Suarez, Dalglish has suggested that the future for Gerrard will involve managing more limited time on the pitch.

"Steven will help because he's got goals, he's got charisma and he's got presence," he said of a player who is likely to be on the bench against Newcastle United at Anfield tonight (7.45pm kick-off).

"He's got everything but we can't throw everything on to Steven.

"We can't say 'Steven is coming back, he's going to be the one to do this or that.'

"If we are going to be a one-man band then we have no chance.

"If we are going to appreciate what we have and respect the people who play with you and for you then we have a better chance."

Dalglish approaches his first anniversary as Liverpool manager with the club's goal tally the obvious point of concern, their total of 21 in 18 Premier League games less than half that of the dominant Manchester clubs whom Liverpool also trail by 14 points.

Gerrard's goals have been sorely needed, with the two-month lay-off caused by an ankle infection, just as he was recovering from a groin operation, limiting him to two League starts this season.

Dalglish acknowledged that the midfielder "will help because he's got goals" but indicated he wanted others to score more because - with the exception of four-goal Maxi Rodriguez, the club's second highest scorer after Suarez - every Liverpool player has scored fewer this season than he had at the equivalent stage in the last campaign.

"I don't think at the goalscoring end we have been prolific at any time [in the past year]," Dalglish said.

"But we will get there. We have said enough about it. There's nothing original I can come up with anyway. There is no magic formula."

Liverpool have only lost one game in which Gerrard has featured since Dalglish's first match in charge: the FA Cup tie at Manchester United during which he was dismissed on January 9.

The manager said that Gerrard looked "even better now than when he last came back" from surgery in October, but seems likely to be cautious about using him in Liverpool's quest for the top-four position which is expected by the club's principal owner, John W Henry.

"We're not going to be irresponsible and throw him in and take a chance with him," Dalglish said. "He was back to full fitness and then got a freak injury and that's why he's had to recuperate again but neither of them were related.

"Everyone wants to play but he's got the experience to know that it's difficult to last the 90 minutes. He's just got to manage the number of minutes he gets on the pitch and see how he goes."

Though Gerrard's groin surgery was something he had accepted was necessary, the unrelated ankle infection was source of devastation and bewilderment.

Gerrard simply didn't understand how an innocuous cut on the ankle, sustained during training in October, rapidly deteriorated in the 24 hours before the league trip to West Bromwich Albion, which Liverpool won 2-0.

The efforts to ensure full rehabilitation have been painstaking. Gerrard has spent a week in Abu Dhabi at the same facilities of Al Jazira FC where Everton's highly rated Ross Barkley undertook conditioning work in the pre-season, following his desperately bad leg break while playing for England's under 19s last October.

"We will just take it as diligently as we always do. We won't go stupidly throwing him in if he's not ready to last," Dalglish insisted. "We would rather have him until the end of the season than just for one game."

That desire to see him involved throughout the campaign will see Liverpool as anxious as they were in the autumn that they come before England, though Gerrard's sense of responsible to Anfield will be accompanied by a need to get back into Fabio Capello's thoughts.

Scott Parker's emergence as the national side's most improved player in 2011 and Jack Wilshere's imminent own return to light training point to a fight ahead for a meaningful role at next summer's European Championships.

Gerrard can be an introspective soul at the best of times and these conflicting responsibilities will be playing on his mind as he seeks to get back to football for good, though sometimes it can be best to strip away the mental dimensions and simply play.

Dalglish's relentless attempts to throw cold water on the Gerrard factor led him to a rhetorical question on Wednesday. "How do we know how different it would have been if Steven had been playing?" he said.

"I think Russell Grant is your man."

But the answer was on the pitch, not in the stars. Gerrard had been on the field for ten seconds of his 20-minute return against Blackburn on Boxing Day before delivering the arcing free-kick which Maxi Rodriguez ought to have converted with the goal at his mercy.

"For captain, as well as team-mates, it may be a case of getting back into the habit.

Meanwhile, Liverpool, who missed out to Swansea in the race to sign Cliftonville hotshot Rory Donnelly, appear unlikely to be able to move for Suarez's Uruguayan compatriot Gaston Ramirez, who will not be leaving Bologna next month the midfielder's agent said yesterday.

Napoli last week won the race to sign Eduardo Vargas, the 22-year-old Chilean forward who Liverpool and Chelsea were both watching.

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