If Liverpool are to win at Chelsea, they need to unshackle Steven Gerrard

By Mark Lawrenson on Apr 29, 08 08:45 AM in Columnists


YOU always feel that Steven Gerrard has seen it all and done it all in his Liverpool career.

But every year - usually around Champions League semi-final time - there are always new challenges the Liverpool captain has to rise to in order to lift his side to great heights.

Tomorrow night is the perfect example. Liverpool have to score at Stamford Bridge for the first time since Rafael Benitez took charge or the dream of European Cup number six is over.

And I think their best chance of doing that is making sure Gerrard gets the freedom he craves.

Freedom he just didn't get in the first leg at Anfield, when he as quiet and unable to influence things in the way he has so often during major games in the past.

The fact is Claude Makelele did a really good job on him in the central areas and Gerrard just couldn't get away from the Frenchman's patch and was in that middle third area a awful lot.

Tomorrow he has to be able to forget tracking back, get into wide areas and try to shake off the attentions of his marker.

Makelele, as we saw when he went to bits for Dirk Kuyt's goal last week, hates being pulled away from his comfort zone. So if Gerrard can do that instead of confronting Makelele at every turn, it can only benefit the team as a whole.

Because whether Gerrard is getting into scoring positions himself or creating them for others, his attacking influence has to be allowed to come to the fore.

But that goes for all the players. Fernando Torres benefits hugely from Gerrard finding the room to express himself so it was no surprise he hardly got a kick last week.

And Ryan Babel and Kuyt have to be brave too. If the ball is on the opposite side to them they have to look to get into the box and go for it. There's very little choice in the matter - play with no fear and no restrictions.

For Gerrard to thrive I don't think Benitez needs to make any changes in personnel from the first leg.

But what the manager will be pleased about is that if the game drags on without Liverpool managing to get the away goal, he can turn to some in-form players on the bench.

Peter Crouch and Jermaine Pennant have both made good cases for being included tomorrow night - Pennant especially.

Because Benitez will surely stick with what has now become his best 11, it means all those players have done is basically heightened their chances of being involved at some point.

But they're certainly in the kind of form that, at the moment, Chelsea won't relish facing when they're just minutes away from that elusive first European Cup final.

All in all, I actually don't think it's a bad thing going in to a second leg knowing you have to score.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying John Arne Riise deserves a pat on the head (not a light one anyway!) for his own goal last week. After all, when it comes to sitting on a lead and closing a game up, there's nobody better than Benitez's Liverpool. Chasing a game, however? Not as much.

They pulled it off against Arsenal, but this is Chelsea away and with their awesome home record the last thing you want to do is invite them on while you're trying to keep a clean sheet.

Going for a goal might make the game more open but it's a risk worth taking for Benitez.

Because when faced with a gamble at this stage of the Champions League, he usually comes up trumps.

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