Gerrard's absence from Liverpool trip puts England on alert

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The Independent Football

Steven Gerrard's participation in England's European Championship qualifier in Wales later this month is open to question after the Liverpool captain failed to make the flight for this evening's Europa League encounter with Braga.

Gerrard has suffered a persistent problem with his groin and his manager, Kenny Dalglish, confirmed that the club would have a better idea of his availability once he sees a specialist tomorrow. England face Wales in Cardiff on 26 March and Liverpool have just one more game before then, away at Sunderland six days earlier.

"For us and Steven it's a big enough problem we have got to find a solution to," said Dalglish. "We'll know better on Friday where we stand exactly, but it's nothing too serious. Hopefully we won't have to manage it, because it will be cleared up and he will be available for most matches.

"We don't want to speculate about anybody, especially Steven. It's a problem that's minimal, but it needs to be fixed, and if it takes some time to get it fixed, we'll get it fixed.

"We are obviously a better side with Steven in it," he added, "but that's not to say that someone else can't come in and do themselves and the club a turn by putting in a big performance."

In the slim shape of Raul Meireles, Liverpool have someone who has driven the club forward while Gerrard, the man to whom they have perhaps looked too often for salvation, has struggled to find form and fitness.

Yesterday was a homecoming of sorts. He grew up and played for Porto, where the road from Braga meets the Atlantic, 30 miles away and when asked why his form had blossomed since the departure of Roy Hodgson, the man who had invested £11m of the club's money in him last summer, he gave a straightforward answer.

"The big difference is that this manager is playing me in a different position," said Meireles, who was habitually employed by Hodgson on the right wing. Lately, he has been used far more centrally and responded with five goals in six matches, the last of these against Wigan Athletic. There has been pressure on him to change his game but he is anxious to maintain the style he displayed at Porto. The only concession to English style he has made was to have his head shaved, an operation that initially was performed by his six-year-old daughter.

"It is difficult for me to be aggressive because I am not naturally like that," Meireles said. "Every game in England there are lots of tackles. I don't know if you can learn to be aggressive. If you are like that when you are young then it is always there.

"I don't think I need to change my game, it is not my style," he added. "I try to do my job, as I did at Porto. I am just me."

PSV v Rangers

The Rangers manager, Walter Smith, believes that PSV Eindhoven will be difficult opponents in tonight's Europa League last 16 away first leg. His side overcame Sporting Lisbon in the last 32 and while the sides are similarly prestigious, Smith believes the game in the Netherlands will be a harder task.

"I feel that this will be a tougher game because the circumstances surrounding the clubs are different," he said. "PSV are certainly steadier and they are on a good run of form at the moment and are top of the league. Sporting Lisbon had one or two problems to overcome off the field so we would expect a far more difficult match this time around than in the previous round."

Rangers have been emboldened by Kyle Lafferty's recovery from tonsillitis, and Smith believes that the availability of the 23-year-old is crucial. "To get a forward back is a big thing for us," he said. "Lafferty can play in the wider areas and through the middle and from our point of view it's important to get some players back. Hopefully he can get his tonsils removed at the end of the season."