x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Steven Gerrard: No sacrifice to play at Liverpool

The midfielder has lived through eras at Anfield and defined them. As a new one begins the constant at the club has the experience and the understanding to put them into perspective.

Chelsea tried to sign Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard on two different occasions.
Chelsea tried to sign Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard on two different occasions.

LIVERPOOL // Steven Gerrard has lived through eras at Anfield and defined them. As a new one begins, under the ownership of John Henry and New England Sports Ventures (NESV) and the management of Roy Hodgson, the constant at the club has the experience and the understanding to put them into perspective.

So, when he describes the last year as the hardest in his time at Liverpool, it is an indication of the trauma.

While today's meeting with Chelsea, who twice entered into a tug-of-war for his services, is a reminder of the trophies and treasure on offer elsewhere, his loyalty is underpinned by the knowledge that this club matters more to him than any other could - and the hope that better times may lie ahead.

"I don't think sacrifice is the right word to stay at Liverpool," he said. "Playing for Liverpool and being the captain, I wouldn't call that a sacrifice, I would call that living a dream. There have been opportunities in the past to move on, Chelsea and others, but I love this club. I want to stay and be successful, because when that day comes, it will mean an awful lot more to me."

The combination of events on the field, where Rafa Benitez's reign ended in acrimonious underachievement, and off it, where the despised owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett fought a desperate battle to retain control of the club, have rendered 2010 a low point in Liverpool's history.

"I think the last 12 months have been the most difficult since I was 18 and broke into the first team," Gerrard said.

The takeover by NESV brought an end to an undignified struggle.

"We're glad to put the ownership turmoil behind us," he said. "It has been difficult. Your mood swings when you hear different news at different times.

"I've never used it as an excuse because that is the easy way out to blame finishing seventh last year and a bad start to the season. But Liverpool FC is not about headlines on the front pages."

Nor is it about being in the relegation zone. Both were among the legacies Hicks and Gillett bequeathed their fellow Americans. It amounted to a traumatic start to Hodgson's reign before back-to-back Premier League wins.

"It has been a shock to a lot of people, me included," Gerrard said.

NESV's plan to deliver more than they promise stems from their history with the Boston Red Sox, the Major League Baseball club. It has endeared them to Gerrard but he is aware that, at 30, time is running out for him.

"What was said between me and the owners is private but I came out of the meeting very happy," he said. "They have got the right idea by trying to build a platform for this club for many years. But of course I'm going to want the quick fix because I've got four or five years left at this level and I want to win trophies before I finish."

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The match-up

Key Battle
Paul Konchesky v Nicolas Anelka
Konchesky, the Liverpool left-back, has been virtually ever-present in the team since his move from Fulham in August. This will be his biggest test yet, against the savvy Anelka, who has become more creative as his pace subsides.

Tactics
With a healthy five-point lead at the top of the table, Chelsea would probably be happy with a point. That could dictate their approach, if they are willing to soak up pressure and hit on the counter-attack. Liverpool have struggled at times this season, but often rise to the occasion.

Previous meetings
Perhaps one of the most-played match-ups in recent years. The teams faced each other home and away in the Champions League in five consecutive seasons from 2004/05. Last season, Chelsea won both domestic encounters 2-0 on their way to the title.

Probable line-ups
Liverpool (4-5-1) Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Konchesky; Lucas, Meireles, Gerrard, Rodriguez, Kuyt; Torres
Chelsea (4-3-3) Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, Cole; Mikel, Ramires, Zirkhov; Drogba, Anelka, Malouda

Facts
• Roy Hodgson, above, has not won as manager against Chelsea in his last six attempts.
• Those Champions League encounters gave this one a reputation for being tight. But the last seven meetings have averaged three goals per game.