Benitez urges England to handle Gerrard with care

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Steve McClaren knows that he will have to win the battle over Steven Gerrard's fitness this week if he is to have any hope of playing the 4-4-2 formation that he hopes to implement in the crucial Euro 2008 qualifier against Israel on Saturday.

The Liverpool captain's fitness is set to dominate the agenda as England prepare at their Hertfordshire base this week. Gerrard has told the England manager that he will be fit to play against Israel regardless of the scepticism of his club manager, Rafael Benitez, that the hairline fracture to his right foot will mean he can play only in the second game against Russia on 12 September.

Gerrard is unlikely to train with the team this week, which will prevent McClaren from testing out his new 4-4-2 formation that is set to include Emile Heskey in attack alongside Michael Owen.

The England midfield is almost certain to include Owen Hargreaves alongside Gerrard, with Joe Cole on the left and either Shaun Wright-Phillips or David Bentley on the right wing. It is a radical change from the 4-3-3 formation that McClaren was planning before Frank Lampard's injury on Friday.

The certainty with which Gerrard has said that he will play for McClaren suggests that he may be prepared to have a painkilling injection similar to the one which allowed him to get through Liverpool's Premier League game against Chelsea at Anfield last month. England's medical staff will stay in contact with their Liverpool counterparts over that issue.

"We have not taken any risks with Steven at Liverpool and I would not expect England to take any risks with him either," Benitez said. " We do not want Steven to play for England with any painkilling injections. We did that in the game against Chelsea and it took four to five days for him to recover enough to be able to return to training," the Liverpool manager stated.

McClaren has called up the Everton defender Joleon Lescott for the first time as a replacement for Portsmouth's Sol Campbell, who pulled out over the weekend after suffering a groin injury.

Lescott played for England B against Albania at the end of last season. Having impressed during Everton's excellent start to the Premier League campaign, and scored the last-minute winner at Bolton on Saturday, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers player was an obvious choice to fill the gap left by Campbell. "Joleon has been looking very solid for Everton this season, and has also scored a couple of goals," McClaren said.

"He is big and strong and is a threat at set pieces as well. As a defender he makes life difficult for strikers. His versatility means he is a good option, as he can play in the middle of the defence or at full-back.He came on as a sub for the 'B' team at Burnley in May and looked assured and I think he's very capable of making the step up to the full team."

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