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Rodgers willing to rest Gerrard for Liverpool's Real Madrid clash

By Sam Wallace

Brendan Rodgers has revealed that he is prepared to rest his captain Steven Gerrard for tonight's Champions League game against Real Madrid in order to ensure that the 34-year-old is fresh for Saturday's Premier League visit of Chelsea.

The Liverpool manager conceded that he has to manage Gerrard's fitness and that the Premier League is his priority - with the club's Champions League group stage destiny more likely to come down to their final two games against Ludogorets and Basel.

Rodgers said that he still believes Liverpool can get a result at the home of the European champions and also that it is time to place the responsibility on some of the squad's new players rather than always relying on their veteran captain to lead them through big games.

Daniel Sturridge has travelled to Spain with the rest of the squad but is "highly unlikely" to play any part in the game. Raheem Sterling should start.

Asked whether he would try to give Gerrard a mid-week rest, as he did last week with the Capital One Cup tie against Swansea, Rodgers said: "It is something I need to look at."

He added: "He and I have spoken about that. Three big games, Newcastle, Madrid and then Chelsea. I need to look at a number of players and the games we want them to play in. That is something I will look at and we will see how that shapes up."

Asked later whether he regarded leaving Gerrard out of the side for such a big game as a gamble, Rodgers said: "I don't see it as a gamble. This week and these games against the likes of Real Madrid, I see as a great opportunity for the squad. You put them out there and you put your trust in them to perform. All I will do as the manager is give them that opportunity to perform.

"We have got three high-level games in a week and I have to think about that in preparation for the weekend.

I also understand that we have to have a team that can come here and win and that is what we want to do.

"In Steven's case, if he is playing on Saturday I have to look at what is the priority for him and us. If he played against Newcastle and didn't play (against Madrid) you could say that (Chelsea is the priority).

"But I have also got to look at the fact we brought in other players. And there is responsibility. But there is no doubt that our priorities are the Premier League and the Champions League."

He denied that it was a pragmatic approach, on a night in one of the most famous European stadiums: "No, not really. I see that we have spent an awful lot of money on players to come in and give them an opportunity to perform. If at the end of this cycle of games they haven't performed, they can never say they haven't been given a chance.

"Whether it is Real Madrid, Newcastle or Chelsea, I am putting my faith in these players to perform. That is not being pragmatic. It is why you have a squad to come and get results. Whatever happens, we will look to get a result on Saturday."

In recent days there had been rumours Gerrard would finish his career away from Anfield. But he is set to disappoint his many suitors and commit his immediate future to the Reds, with the club offering their captain a 12-month contract extension and an option to renew for a further year.

The 34-year-old admitted last week that he could leave his boyhood club when his current deal expires in the summer, prompting speculation that he could join a rival club next season.

Liverpool moved swiftly to reassure Gerrard they wanted him to stay as supporters criticised the club for allowing their talismanic captain to reach the point where he started to question whether he had a future at the club.

Rodgers said yesterday: "I explained to Steven's representative that I want him to be part of what we're doing here. He's been a brilliant captain for me. I want to keep him here.

"I relayed that information to the owners. I'm sure they'll go away with that and, with Steven's representatives, hopefully organise a deal. He's a unique player."

Gerrard joined the Liverpool academy at the age of nine and has made more than 770 first-team appearances for the club. He retired from international football following the World Cup after earning 114 caps for England to extend his club career.

Belfast Telegraph


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