Welsh aims to develop alongside Gerrard at Liverpool

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The Independent Football

John Welsh, the young Liverpool midfielder, has been tipped to replace Steven Gerrard at Anfield but Welsh would rather play alongside him in the club's first-team.

John Welsh, the young Liverpool midfielder, has been tipped to replace Steven Gerrard at Anfield but Welsh would rather play alongside him in the club's first-team.

Welsh admits that he models his game on the England international, who is reported to be a target for Chelsea this summer. The 21-year-old has deputised for Gerrard in some League Cup and FA Cup games this season but wants to team up with the Liverpool captain in central midfield for Rafael Benitez's side.

"I don't know what's going to happen at the end of the season," Welsh said. "Hopefully, he'll stay because I know he [Gerrard] loves Liverpool. Whenever he makes his decision, it's down to him. Hopefully, I'd love to play alongside him.

"It's up to Rafael Benitez whether he picks me," he added, "but I'll keep working hard and, hopefully, I'll get my chance."

Benitez will have been impressed with Welsh's goal for the England Under-21 side against Azerbaijan during their 2-0 win at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium on Tuesday - with Dean Ashton scoring the second - especially as for the entire 90 minutes they faced opponents who often put 10 players behind the ball and showed little desire to try to score, even though they were two goals behind at the interval.

Welsh, who curled his first-half shot over the goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area, said he needs to emulate Gerrard by getting on the scoresheet on a regular basis.

"I don't score that many goals so it was nice to get on the scoresheet. A few of the lads were giving me a bit of stick and asking if it was a cross," he said. "The staff at the club feel I should score more goals and that's an area I'm looking to improve in. My strengths include my tackling and hopefully my passing but there's lots I can improve upon. I'm only young and I know I'm not the finished article."

The goal capped a fine month for the young player after he made his Champions' League debut in the second leg of the last-16 tie against Bayer Leverkusen. Welsh still feels he is developing as a player, helped by the internationals at Anfield, including Gerrard, who he has been compared to.

The similarities between the two do not end on the pitch. Both players are from Liverpool and both supported the club before signing professional terms.

Welsh added of Gerrard: "He's one of my idols and you look at him, what he's doing week-in, week-out, and try and model yourself on that. It's brilliant to be compared to him but I think he scores a few more goals than me.

"I grew up at Liverpool and I've seen some brilliant players there. He's obviously the latest to come through the academy, along with Jamie Carragher, and watching them from the stands has been brilliant. You always try and learn off the best players and Steve for me is one of the best players in the world."

Welsh was enthusiastic about the encouragement he has received from the likes of Gerrard, Carragher and the other senior players at Anfield.

"'Carra' has been tremendous this season and we all know Steven Gerrard's one of the best players in the world," he added. "Even Xabi Alonso, Milan Baros and [Fernando] Morientes - the list of world-class players keeps going and to work alongside them, you can only learn off them.

"When I've been involved in games, Carra and Stevie are always talking to you, helping you along, and in training they give you tips and say 'maybe try this' and giving you their opinion of what you can do."

Welsh has been at Anfield since he was eight years old and said he is prepared to wait to establish himself in the side rather than join a club who could offer regular first-team appearances. He has also been encouraged by Benitez' faith in younger players at the club, and believes he will eventually get his chance to stake his claim.

"I'm at one of the best clubs in the world, for me, I've always supported them from a child and I love the club," Welsh added. "So I'll be patient. I know there's a lot of good players there.

"The gaffer has shown he'll put the young kids in if they deserve it, so I'll keep working hard. The gaffer keeps talking to me, telling me what I should be doing, so I listen to him and take it from there.

"Rafael Benitez wants me to stay at Liverpool. I love the club and I want to make it there."