Benitez wants to reduce load on Gerrard

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The Independent Football

The onus for ensuring that Steven Gerrard is not completely exhausted by the time England commence their World Cup campaign against Paraguay on 10 June has now fallen to the midfielder's Liverpool team-mates, after Rafael Benitez admitted that they must share the load of the club's extended season in order to keep their captain fresh for Germany.

Sven Goran Eriksson fulfilled the Liverpool manager's request not to play Gerrard for 90 minutes against Uruguay on Wednesday night but his hopes of having the favour returned are slim given the European champions' heavy reliance on the 25-year-old. Liverpool have lost the last two games in which Gerrard has failed to start - against Charlton, who they meet at Anfield today, and at Benfica, who they trail ahead of Wednesday's return in the Champions League - and on both occasions he was absent through injury rather than reasons of self-preservation.

With Mohamed Sissoko still recovering from the serious eye injury he sustained in Lisbon - "He could be out for a few months but the positive news is he is improving every day," said Benitez yesterday - and the craft of Luis Garcia and Harry Kewell missing from the Liverpool midfield of late, the burden on Gerrard may increase over the final months of the season.

"I was thinking of resting players during the game against Manchester City if we scored a second goal," revealed the Liverpool manager yesterday. "But it never came. You need to be sure of winning the first game before thinking of the second one. Steven is a key player for us and we are playing for the Champions' League, FA Cup and for the top of the League, but it would be better for the team if other players played as well as him.

"Harry has not been at his level for the last few games but it is not easy to stay at 100 per cent. It is more difficult now because we have lost Sissoko, but [Dietmar] Hamann and [Xabi] Alonso are good players and maybe in one month we can rest Steven more."

Elsewhere, the Manchester City striker Darius Vassell has been told he requires a hernia operation, but the lack of striking options available to the City manager, Stuart Pearce, means surgery will not take place until the end of the season.

"Darius wants to play every game and would have preferred to have played at Liverpool last week," Pearce said, "but I'm trying to get players to the finishing line. He will have to have the operation in the summer."

Pearce also revealed that Joey Barton is unlikely to sign a new contract with the club before the end of this campaign, despite further talks with the midfielder's agent last week.