Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insisted he had to "pay respect to the team" after skipper Steven Gerrard ended his five-week absence from the bench in a 1-0 win at Swansea.
Gerrard had not featured since the 3-2 home victory over Tottenham on February 10 because of hamstring trouble, but he returned to the fray as a 64th-minute substitute at the Liberty Stadium as Liverpool moved to within two points of fourth-placed Manchester United in the Barclays Premier League.
It was Liverpool's fifth league win on the spin and they have now lost only twice in their last 23 games in all competitions.
Liverpool's last league loss was a 3-0 defeat at Manchester United on December 14 and the two sides now meet in a huge Anfield showdown on Sunday, although whether Gerrard will start remains open to debate after Rodgers' praise for the team in his absence.
"You have to pay respect to the team," Rodgers explained when asked about Gerrard's return as a second-half substitute in south Wales.
"The team has been playing very well and getting results and collectively over the last three months we've been in great form.
"You've also got to pay attention that he (Gerrard) has been out for considerable period of time as well, but you see how important he is when he came on.
"We were able to penetrate when Steven came on and he offered that calmness and control.
"We switched to a diamond with Steven at the bottom and he was very important to that."
Rodgers admits he has not ruled out a top-two finish after Jordan Henderson's 68th-minute winner made the most of second-placed Manchester City's surprise weekend defeat at Burnley.
Only four points now separate City from Liverpool in fifth with Arsenal and Manchester United also battling for those coveted top-four spots which will guarantee Champions League football next season.
"We've put ourselves in great position," Rodgers said.
"We want to finish as high as we can and everyone talks about fourth, but it's the same every year.
"We'll do the best we can and Manchester City's result at the weekend gives us an opportunity to finish second.
"We've got to use the mentality, run and confidence we've got, take that into every game and see where it takes us."
Swansea 0 Liverpool 1 player ratings
Swansea 0 Liverpool 1 player ratings
1/23 Lukasz Fabianski
Excellent save to prevent Coutinho from taking the lead in the second half. He was alert to everything Liverpool managed to get on target. Unfortunate to be beaten by Henderson's fortuitous rebounded effort. 6
2/23 Kyle Naughton
He didn’t utilise his pace as much as he should have done. It is usually expected that he charges forward but he had to hold back to monitor Coutinho and Moreno. 6
3/23 Jordi Amat
A little suspect at times. He gave the impression he was never 100 per cent comfortable. Uneasy when Liverpool broke through Coutinho. Unfortunate to see his clearance rebound off Henderson and into his own goal. 5
4/23 Ashley Williams
A good performance from the central defender. He stayed tight to Sturridge and rarely let the striker stride beyond him. 6
5/23 Neil Taylor
Penetrated the left wing well and took advantage of the fewer numbers in the Liverpool defence. Poor final ball. 6
6/23 Ki Sung-Yueng
A little hesitant going forward and was too slow to react once he was close to Mignolet’s goal. Passed the ball expertly, though. 7
7/23 Jack Cork
One of the most influential players on the pitch. He passed the ball extremely well but possibly should have backed himself to have a shot. 6
8/23 Jonjo Shelvey
Livened up in the second half. He found himself much more involved in his side’s attacking play while also ensuring that it was difficult for Lallana to get beyond him. 6
9/23 Gylfi Sigurdsson
Forced Mignolet into making a remarkable save to deny him in the first half. Lacked potency in the second half. 6
10/23 Bafetimbi Gomis
A constant nuisance to the Liverpool back three, particularly Skrtel who he tried to bully whenever the defender came close to him. Unfortunately for his side he lacked a quality finish. 6
11/23 Wayne Routledge
He didn’t get up the pitch high enough to cause the likes of Sakho and Skrtel too many problems. Without any space to run into his pace became a little redundant. Replaced by Montero on 72 minutes. 5
12/23 Simon Mignolet
Very quick to react to the threat posed by Gomis. His saves to deny the striker were crucial, particularly in the first half. Denied Sigurdsson excellently too. 7
13/23 Emre Can
A determined performance. No different to how he has played of late and Liverpool are now in a position where they can rely on him. 7
14/23 Martin Skrtel
Cleared away the danger well and stay composed throughout the match. 7
15/23 Mamadou Sakho
One of the better performers in Liverpool’s defence. Showed composure, strength and determination to get the better of Gomis. 7
16/23 Joe Allen
Defensively strong from the midfielder. He was arguably Liverpool’s most effective player. He constantly looked to feed Coutinho while at the same time halted the Swansea advances. 8
17/23 Jordan Henderson
Booked in the first half. He’s been on top form recently but against Swansea he gave the ball away too often. Fortunate with his goal but he’ll be happy to count it. 6
18/23 Adam Lallana
A passenger in this one. So often he is a threat but here he lacked potency and the pairing of Shelvey and Taylor dealt with him well. 6
19/23 Alberto Moreno
Booked early in the second half which meant he didn’t steam into challenges as much as he did before. Replaced by Gerrard on 63 minutes. 5
20/23 Philippe Coutinho
Made much more of an impact in the second as he started to move into space, which allowed him to get a number of shots away. 7
21/23 Raheem Sterling
Fast but a little ineffective after his booking. Still a menace, though. 6
22/23 Daniel Sturridge
He hasn’t been the same since he returned from injury and he showed that here. Missed a good opportunity to extend his side's lead at the end. 6
23/23 Steven Gerrard
Brought on for Moreno on 63 minutes. His experience proved effective and gave Liverpool more strength in midfield. 6
Swansea manager Garry Monk expressed sympathy for his players who he felt deserved something from the game.
"I'm disappointed for the players, who put a lot of effort in, stuck at it and showed a lot of commitment," Monk said.
"We deserved something from the game as in the first half we were superb and dominated the game.
"We played some fantastic stuff and I feel it's an opportunity missed.
"We had some good chances in the first half and should have scored one or two.
"When you don't take your chances, a side like Liverpool will come back into the game, but I thought we played some of our best football in that game."
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