There are at most 13 matches of Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool career left and, now he is fit, the question is how many he will play.
Liverpool is a sentimental, romantic city and Anfield is probably the most romantic and sentimental place on Merseyside. For some managers, if Liverpool’s captain wanted to start the lot, he would.
However, since Gerrard played his last match, the 3-2 win over Tottenham on 10 February, Liverpool have gone into overdrive, winning their next four Premier League games to put them within touching distance of the Champions League places. If they beat Manchester United at Anfield on Sunday, they will be favourites to return to the European elite.
“This guy is one of the greatest players in the history of the Premier League and, arguably, the greatest player this club has had. But what I do know is that Stevie always puts the team first,” said Brendan Rodgers as he prepared for Monday’s game at Swansea, the club where he made his managerial reputation. “I am not one who makes emotional decisions on whether I like someone or not. For me, it is about finding the right balance in a team.”
Steven Gerrard in pictures
Steven Gerrard in pictures
1/11 England Under-21s
Steven Gerrard of England celebrates his 13th minute strike during the England v Luxembourg European 2000 Under-21 Qualifying match at the Madejski Stadium, Reading, England. The match finished in a 5-0 win for England
2/11 England 5 Germany 1
Gerrard celebrates his goal in the 5-1 win over Germany, one of his England highlights
3/11 Euro 2004 qualifiers
Gerrard celebrates after scoring the equaliser during the Euro 2004 European Championships Group 7 against Macedonia at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, England
4/11 2006 World Cup qualifiers
Gerrard celebrates with Michael Owen during the FIFA World Cup 2006 group six qualification after scoring against Austria in Vienna
5/11 Beckham and Gerrard
David Beckham and Gerrard in England colours together. The pair were at the heart of England's 'golden generation'
6/11 Beckham and Gerrard
And now Gerrard could follow Beckham in a move to the MLS and LA Galaxy
7/11 Champions League success 2005
Gerrard captained Liverpool to their famous penalty shootout European Cup victory in 2005
8/11 England Player of the Year
Gerrard was named England player of the year in 2013
9/11 2014 World Cup
Gerrard captained his country to the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil last summer
10/11 An early exit
But was unable to prevent defeats to Italy and Uruguay that paved the way to England's early exit from the tournament
11/11 International retirement
Gerrard would go on to announce his international retirement after the ill-fated trip to Brazil
Rodgers said the return of Lucas Leiva from injury was as important as Gerrard’s availability. And he added: “Stevie has big qualities that we will need between now and the end of the season. But as a manager there are things you have to manage. There is managing the situation here with a player moving towards the end of his career.
“These are the challenges – like managing Luis Suarez and Jamie Carragher. It is about managing these situations while trying to build a team to make the club competitive again at the highest level. You earn your money.”
The money available to Liverpool if they qualify for the Champions League is between £30m and £40m and they are on course for it. They have not lost in the league since Manchester United beat them 3-0 at Old Trafford in mid-December. It was in the 4-1 victory over Swansea at the end of that month that Liverpool, remoulded in a 3-4-3 formation, really began to see their season turn around.
This time last year, however, Liverpool were charging towards their first league title in nearly a quarter of a century – and they fell at the last. You wonder how well this team copes with pressure.
“We dealt really well with the pressure last season,” said Rodgers. “We won 12 out of 14 in the run-in and it was unfortunate that we lost one. OK, it was the one that mattered [against Chelsea when Gerrard’s slip allowed Demba Ba to run through on goal]. It wasn’t through not being able to deal with the pressure. We were unlucky that day – we conceded right at the end of the first half and right at the end of the second. We dealt with it remarkably well.
“Our game is about being able to deal with the ball, technically, and that is a big part of why my teams do well in the second part of a season – our game is based on dealing with pressure because they have the courage to play.”