Gerrard in the spotlight as Reds face Chelsea showdown
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Liverpool's Steven Gerrard applauds the crowd after a Group B Champions League match between Real Madrid and Liverpool at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday Nov. 4, 2014. AP PhotoBrendan Rodgers insists there is no chance Steven Gerrard will crack under pressure when the Liverpool captain bids for redemption against Chelsea on Nov. 8.
Gerrard endured one of the worst moments of his career when the Reds midfielder last faced Chelsea in April as his disastrous slip allowed Demba Ba to score the goal that shattered Liverpool's challenge to win the title for the first time since 1990.
The 34-year-old has been well below his best since that agonising mistake and his spluttering campaign, which mirrors his team's own struggles, suffered another blow on Tuesday when he was restricted to a 20-minute substitute appearance in the 1-0 Champions League loss at Real Madrid.
Reds boss Rodgers also rested several other key players and said he was trying to keep Gerrard, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury, fresh ahead of the Chelsea showdown.
But with Liverpool languishing 12 points behind leaders Chelsea, Gerrard desperately wants to erase the bitter memory of last season's mistake and this week's demotion by delivering a dominant display against Jose Mourinho's team, who will swagger into Anfield unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions this season.
Gerrard has risen to the occasion many times before and Rodgers is banking on another inspirational display from his talisman.
"He has had hard moments in his career and he always responds magnificently. There was no blame. It was just an unfortunate thing," Rodgers said of the slip that is now immortalised by Chelsea fans in a taunting chant Gerrard is sure to hear many times on Saturday.
"He was instrumental in our run last year and how well we played.
"He is a big character and bounces back from that. It shows you the character of Steven."
As if Gerrard's attempt to make amends for his costly mistake isn't a juicy enough sub-plot to Saturday's clash, there is also the lingering bad blood following Rodgers's criticism of Mourinho's cautious tactics in their 2-0 win at Anfield last season.
Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic reignited the feud this week when he said Liverpool had only themselves to blame for failing to prise open the Blues defence.
"Many teams this season have tried to park the bus in front of the goal against us, but we win," Matic said.
"If you defend, you have to know how to defend. In that game (in April) we showed we have quality.
"We play in a different way now. We are first in the table and we want to stay there." If Liverpool do avenge last season's loss, it would be a welcome tonic for champions Manchester City, who trail Chelsea by six points and are in severe danger of crashing out of the Champions League following their shock midweek defeat against CSKA Moscow.
Manuel Pellegrini's side travel to second bottom QPR on Saturday with captain Vincent Kompany conceding his team-mates will have to improve quickly if they want to overhaul the leaders and also progress in Europe.
"The result says enough. There is no way we can afford to lose points against a team we should beat every day," he said.
"It won't take a lot for everyone at the club to realise we need to do better." Second-placed Southampton have provided the most uplifting story of the season by defying predictions of a relegation battle following the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino and five star players.
But boss Ronald Koeman, whose team host Leicester on Saturday, has little hope Saints will keep pace with Chelsea and City in the title race.
"In one game we can beat them but it is a two-team race because I still believe City and Chelsea are normally much stronger over the whole season," he said.
"The next step for us is playing in Europe. I have confidence we can reach that." On Sunday, fourth placed Arsenal will look to put their midweek meltdown against Anderlecht, when they conceded three goals in the final 29 minutes of a 3-3 Champions League draw, behind them with a victory at Swansea.
"That was a good warning that everyone should raise their game," Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker said.
"It is a small setback and we will bounce back quickly."