Gerrard to return to centre stage

Steven Gerrard will return to his favoured central midfield role to galvanise Liverpool’s final months of a frantic season.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez, while confirming eye injury victim Mohamed Sissoko is unlikely to play again this season, accepts he has a major problem to solve in central midfield.

For weeks now Gerrard has been used on the right wing, but the loss of Sissoko will force the Anfield chief to abandon that role for his captain and restore him to his best position in the centre of midfield.

Liverpool are still fighting on three fronts and Sunday’s home Premiership game with Manchester City follows the 1-0 first-leg defeat by Benfica in their Champions League last-16 match on Tuesday.

Benitez cannot afford to use Gerrard wide any longer and he said of his inspirational captain: “He can change matches, and he can do that better from the centre.”

Gerrard – who played only 12 minutes in Lisbon because of a leg injury – will then go off on England duty next week, with Benitez saying: “Gerrard is fit. After the game in Benfica he told me he was okay, now maybe we need to use him in a role where we can keep possession and he can work behind the strikers.

“It will be England duty next for him, and every manager would rather have their player working with you during the week but you know that when the internationals come around that is impossible. He will go to join England.”

Benitez said: “Losing Sissoko means the option for central midfield does involve Gerrard.

“(Xabi) Alonso and (Dietmar) Hamann can play in the middle, but maybe it is time to start using someone else on the right side.

“Momo was working for everyone, a fantastic player with so much energy right across midfield.

“Gerrard is a different type of player but he has more quality and he can change games.

“Luis Garcia, too, can play in three different positions, but if we need to use Gerrard in the middle then Luis can play on the right.”

Liverpool have had slightly better reports on Sissoko’s damaged eye overnight and Benitez will have face to face discussions about his future over the weekend.

He said: “He is now more confident about the situation, and we must wait a week for him to have rest and then he will see another specialist.

“It is the first time I have seen such a bad eye injury, he needs to rest now. I expect him to play again, but this season will be difficult.

“He is back in Liverpool, he cannot travel so he will stay here for rest. He has heard all the things people have been saying about the injury but for now it is better that he rests and keeps calm.

“He is a big loss, but the most important thing is the health of a player. You have players injured, but when it is this serious you must be more concerned about his health first.

“I do not expect Momo to play again this season, maybe we will see him working again within a few months.”

Benitez is confident that Liverpool can recover from the Lisbon defeat, and he says: “The defeat in Lisbon was a bad one, but it was only one game. The goal we conceded could and should have been avoided and I was very disappointed after the game.

“But we have had many clean sheets and won lots of games this season and we are stronger still than last season.

“City like to go forward and play attacking football. It is a style that I also like and that is good for the fans to see an open game.

“They have two good strikers and their wingers are playing well, and in Joey Barton in midfield they have a good player who can score from distance.

“They have an offensive mentality and a manager in Stuart Pearce who is doing a good job, it is not easy becoming a manager when you have only just finished playing.”

Liverpool will also be without the suspended Jamie Carragher for one game, while Robbie Fowler will not be involved as part of the agreement that followed his transfer back to Anfield from City.

Benitez said: “I have two possibilities to replace Carragher. Daniel Agger and Djimi Traore are both training well, Danny is fit now after his injury and he has trained all week.”

Benitez side-stepped the current debate about diving but still managed a dig at Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.

The Liverpool chief recalls all too well the incident last month when Chelsea winger Arjen Robben was accused of diving to get Anfield keeper Jose Reina sent off and banned for three matches.

And Benitez admits he had a “smile on my face” when he watched the incidents in Chelsea’s Champions League defeat by Barcelona on Wednesday.

After that match, Mourinho accused Barcelona youngster Lionel Messi of diving when Chelsea full-back Asier Del Horno was sent off for a body check on the Argentinian youngster.

Quizzed on the subject, Benitez would only say: “You see my smile. You can watch the video of the match and it is easy for me, sometimes you do not need to talk you need to wait. And to smile.”

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