People often say one man does not make a team. At Liverpool, they may beg to differ. Without Steven Gerrard, the Reds look forlorn and have often faltered. He is their leader, their inspiration. Without him on Saturday against Fulham, he was missing with a groin injury, Liverpool lacked the guile to overcome the battling Londoners and dropped two crucial home points in the Premier League title race.
So often they have relied on Gerrard to rescue them and Rafa Benitez must be relieved to have his midfielder back for tonight's Champions League encounter with Marseille. Fernando Torres certainly is. The Spain striker is a big admirer of Gerrard, linking up superbly with the England man since arriving from Atletico Madrid. "I wanted to play for a club like Liverpool, where I could learn from players like Steven Gerrard, who I have always respected as a player and a leader," said Torres.
"A captain in England must lead by example. "Steven Gerrard is someone everyone wants to be like, always the first at training and it is he who grafts the hardest in each exercise, who sacrifices himself during each match. "You follow him blindly. Moreover, he is a star who decided to stay at Liverpool despite all the offers. It is a pleasure to receive the through-balls you get from Steven. "He puts the ball where he wants, like [Barcelona's] Xavi for the national team."
Gerrard is a target for the top teams, but has resisted the chance to leave as he is driven by the desire to enjoy more success with his hometown club. He does not want to only have the Champions League triumph in 2005 to show for his efforts. "I've got a drive and a hunger to match Istanbul, if not beat it. I think I'd have regrets if I didn't win anything else," he said. A win tonight against the French side and Liverpool would be through to the knockout stage. A loss would create pressure that Benitez does not need right now after a solid start to the season.
The fans vented their frustration at their inability to beat Fulham and the coach is looking for a decisive win to lift them again. Benitez will overtake Bill Shankly by leading Liverpool into a record 66th European game tonight. "It would be important for us and much better for us if we can win and get through to the knockout stages," he said. "But we know that Marseille are a good team. They also know that they won at Anfield last season so it will not be easy."
Marseille need to repeat that 1-0 victory last October to have any chance of reaching the next phase. Liverpool should be too strong, but Bolo Zenden returns to his former club with hope. "Nothing is over just yet, we can still do something in this competition," he said.. "At Anfield, the atmosphere is incredible and on top of that, we all still have in mind the last year's result. "It's up to us to take advantage and to give the best of ourselves."