Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez believes his captain Steven Gerrard is close to his “unstoppable” best as the Reds prepare for the Champions League visit of Bordeaux on Tuesday night.
If Liverpool win and Galatasaray to get a point from their trip to PSV Eindhoven – Benitez’s side will be in the draw for the first knock-out round with two group games to spare.
That would represent the Merseysiders’ best-ever performance in the group stages. They qualified with one game to spare last season, and the year before that needed a sensational last-gasp Gerrard strike in the last game against Olympiakos.
Benitez has been encouraged by Liverpool’s impressive 3-1 victory over Aston Villa on Saturday, which helped dispel the criticism of his management style that had come from an unnamed director.
There were also rumours – strongly denied – that Gerrard is not happy with the boss or his role in the side, but Benitez is fully focused on the battle with Bordeaux, whom Liverpool beat 1-0 away a fortnight ago.
The Spanish coach sees the versatile Gerrard as the key to Liverpool’s success.
“It was clear last season that Steven scored 23 goals and made many assists, and he did it from the role we are now playing him in.
“He is nominally starting on the right, but he is mobile and can attack from various positions, left or right, and that worries teams because they do not know what to expect.
“Steven is a player who can produce his talents from all around the pitch, and that is the essence of what he should be doing.
“If he is on his game and working like this he can be frightening for opponents, he has such drive and strength to get forward.
“He is unstoppable. I like that word, it is a good way to describe Steven when he plays well, and we are now seeing this more often.”
But Benitez also cited the importance of Mohamed Sissoko in a central midfield role.
“Momo is as important as Steven, because he can play in the middle and work and cover when Steven is attacking from different avenues.
“Momo can stop players and that is the balance we are looking for. Look at our left-back, for example. If Gerrard is in front of him on the left and then goes inside that means the opposing full-back has to decide whether to go with him or to stay out wide.
“Whatever he does he has a problem. Steven is then attacking or if he goes with him, it leaves space for our full-back to attack.
“Momo provides the opportunity for Steven to attack with confidence that there is cover. It is a balance that a big team needs.”