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West Brom tempt Twitter fate

The Toe Poke about an hour ago
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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 5 hours ago
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By ESPN Staff
Nov 2, 2007

Benitez: Gerrard is not over-played

Rafael Benitez has underlined just how crucial Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool's future after the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor criticised the over-use of the England midfield star.

And Liverpool chief Benitez will have his skipper leading from the front in a crunch Premier League clash at Blackburn, with Mark Hughes' men now one place ahead of the Anfield club in the table.

Taylor, the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, said of Gerrard: 'If that was a racehorse, the RSPCA would be on the case.'

But Benitez has shifted the blame onto England for the punishing schedule that Gerrard has had to endure this season, having started six games in the last 18 days.

And Benitez has also claimed that when Gerrard is not in the right confident frame of mind, Liverpool do not play well.

With vital league games on the horizon and three make-or-break Champions League games before mid-December, the workload will not diminish for Gerrard, who also has England's vital game with Croatia at Wembley on November 21 to contend with.

Benitez said: 'Gerrard now has his confidence back, when he is in that frame of mind he plays well and Liverpool play well.

'Beforehand he was injured, he needed to get fit but he still had to join up with the national team. He was the hero of his country because he was playing with injuries, but it is not easy to play a lot of games in a row when you are not 100% fit.

'Everybody was pushing him to do everything well for his country and the team and to play two matches in a row, sometimes that is not easy in those circumstances. It has had an effect on him ever since.

'We were missing those surging runs from midfield into the box, now he is doing that. He has the confidence to do it and that has meant the team is playing better.'

Privately, Benitez and Liverpool may think that if Gordon Taylor is worried about Gerrard being used too much, then England's decision to play him twice in five days while a broken bone in his foot was healing, needs to be addressed.

Gerrard is now back to almost his best, having scored three times in a week. Benitez says: 'Steven is playing well, he is back to fitness and in the last three games he has been much, much better. He has scored in each of those games and we are beginning to benefit from his returning form.

'He has been the difference in the team. It gives everyone more confidence, they know that if they are in trouble or we have a problem, that Stevie can score maybe the winning goal or produce the crucial tackle.

'For us that is very important. If Gerrard has confidence then the team will play better.'

He added: 'It is important to remember that when he was not playing and Alonso was with Mascherano or Sissoko in midfield, we were not playing well and it was not good enough.

'So when you have people like Alonso, Mascherano, Agger and Sissoko all fit and all playing well, and Gerrard is also playing well, then we can beat anyone.

'When they are all playing well and we have Gerrard also at his best, then we know we are a very, very good team and anything is possible.'

Taylor and Benitez have revived the age-old club versus country debate, and these days clubs sometimes target international fortnights to get their players clear of injuries and for them to rest.

But there will be little rest for Gerrard these coming weeks. Liverpool, still unbeaten in the league, have Blackburn, Newcastle, Manchester United on the horizon plus Besiktas, Porto and Marseille in Europe to contend with.

Benitez says: 'Blackburn will be equally as hard a match as our recent games with Everton and Arsenal.

'Blackburn have confidence, they now play some nice football with good players. They create chances and have really improved, it will be a tough test for us.

'When you spend two or three years close to the top four, close to the Champions League like they have, then you must give credit to the manager, Mark Hughes, for that achievement.

'It is clear they are progressing on the pitch, and after two years you can see the improvement. You need to be good in the transfer market as well as what you do every day, this is an example of a job well done.'

He added: 'This could be an important weekend in the season, with Arsenal playing Manchester United. But the key for us to keep being consistent.

'Recently the team was not playing well but the last few games we have been better. The commitment of the players has always been there, but now with us getting better results the confidence also improves.

'Everybody accepts that Arsenal are playing really, really well and could be title contenders, so for us to almost beat them and fight as well as we did last weekend, we must be pleased.

'I said to the players that after that game we must realise that we can beat anyone. We had lots of problems before and during the game with injuries and sickness, but still had the chances to have won the game.'