Football

Rodgers backs 'strong' Gerrard

- PHOTO: AFP

Brendan Rodgers insists Steven Gerrard will not crack under pressure when the Liverpool captain bids for redemption against Chelsea tonight.

Gerrard endured one of the worst moments of his career as his disastrous slip against Chelsea in April allowed Demba Ba to score the goal that shattered Liverpool's challenge to win the title for the first time since 1990.

The 34-year-old has been well below his best since that agonising mistake and his spluttering campaign, which mirrors his team's struggles, suffered another blow on Tuesday when he was restricted to a 20-minute substitute appearance in the 1-0 Champions League loss at Real Madrid.

Reds boss Rodgers (above) also rested several other key players and said he was trying to keep Gerrard, who has been bothered by a hamstring injury, fresh ahead of the Chelsea showdown.

With Liverpool languishing 12 points behind leaders Chelsea, Gerrard desperately wants to erase the bitter memory of last season's mistake and this week's demotion by delivering a dominant display against Jose Mourinho's team, who will swagger into Anfield unbeaten in 16 games in all competitions this season.

Gerrard has risen to the occasion many times before and Rodgers is banking on another inspirational display from his talisman.

SLIP

"He has had hard moments in his career and he always responds magnificently. There was no blame. It was just an unfortunate thing," Rodgers said of the slip that is now immortalised by Chelsea fans in a taunting chant Gerrard is sure to hear many times tonight.

"He was instrumental in our run last year and how well we played.

"He is a big character and bounces back from that. It shows you the character of Steven."

As if Gerrard's attempt to make amends for his costly mistake isn't a juicy enough sub-plot to tonight's clash, there is also the lingering bad blood following Rodgers' criticism of Mourinho's cautious tactics in that 2-0 win at Anfield in April.

Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic reignited the feud this week when he said the Reds had only themselves to blame for failing to prise open the Blues defence.

"Many teams this season have tried to park the bus in front of the goal against us, but we win," Matic said. "If you defend, you have to know how to defend. In that game (in April) we showed we have quality." - Wire Services.

"He has had hard moments in his career and he always responds magnificently. There was no blame. It was just an unfortunate thing."

- Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers on Steven Gerrard's slip in the 0-2 loss to Chelsea in April