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By ESPN Staff

Benitez: Take no risks with Gerrard

Liverpool will hand Steven Gerrard over to England's care this week with Rafael Benitez urging Steve McClaren not to take any risks with his captain.

Despite missing Liverpool's six-goal thrashing of Derby at the weekend as he continues to recover from a broken toe, Gerrard has assured McClaren he will be available for the crucial Euro 2008 double-header with Israel and Russia.

The certainty with which Gerrard made his declaration has led to speculation the midfielder would be prepared to have the kind of painkilling injection which allowed him to get through Liverpool's Premier League encounter with Chelsea at Anfield earlier this month.

There is some doubt as to whether England's medical staff could carry out such a move, even with the player's permission, without Liverpool's approval.

Given McClaren's insistence his own physios will liaise with their Liverpool counterparts during the week, it is highly unlikely such a scenario would occur anyway.

But, as he bid his talisman farewell, Benitez offered a note of caution.

'We have not taken any risks with Steven at Liverpool and I would not expect England to take any risks with him,' he said. 'We do not want Steven to play for England with any painkilling injections.

'We did that against Chelsea and it took four to five days for him to recover to be able to train again.'

With England requiring a minimum of four points from the two Wembley games to retain a realistic hope of reaching next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, McClaren's need to have Gerrard available is obvious.

Earmarked for a central midfield berth, Gerrard's importance is even more acute given the absence of Frank Lampard.

Even with the addition of Emile Heskey, there is a distinct lack of proven goalscoring ability in McClaren's squad and no-one has forgotten how Gerrard virtually single-handedly dragged the Three Lions to victory over Andorra in March when they looked like being held to a humiliating draw with the part-timers.

Knowing England's final five qualifiers will lead only to the sack if results do not go his way, McClaren has adopted a `get-tough' policy in his dealings with clubs.

Given that stance, it is understandable the former Middlesbrough coach is keen to distance himself from speculation he only ended Heskey's three-year England exile upon the advice of Owen.

The decision, McClaren has privately insisted, was entirely his own, although given Owen's most productive period as an England striker did come when Heskey was his partner.

While Andrew Johnson, Alan Smith and Jermain Defoe have their own merits, Heskey does look set to step into the breach against Israel on Saturday, when Peter Crouch will be suspended.

Even if he does not score himself, Heskey's sheer bulk should, in theory, keep an Israeli defence marshalled by Tal Ben Haim fully occupied, allowing Owen, Gerrard and Joe Cole to profit.

Cole has questioned how valuable McClaren feels he is to the England cause having substituted the Chelsea man against Germany last month.

However, it appears Cole remains a firm favourite and a virtual certainty to retain his spot on the left-hand side of McClaren's midfield.

'Joe is very valuable to England,' said McClaren. 'He hardly played for us last season and we missed him.

'He showed how important he is when he came back against Estonia in the summer and scored. I have made a point to him about his performances and he knows what he has to do.'