Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - Page 18 News List

CHRISTMAS & NEW YEAR MATCHES: Two-goal Gerrard talks up Reds’ title hopes at St James’


Steven Gerrard branded the current Liverpool side “the best” he’d played in after the Merseysiders ended the year as Premier League leaders after thrashing Newcastle United 5-1 at St James’ Park.

Liverpool haven’t been crowned champions of England since 1990 — an interminable wait for a club that has won the domestic title a record 18 times.

Reds captain Gerrard knows better than most people at Anfield the dangers of raising hopes that end in painful failure.

However, such was his self-belief following Sunday’s away win, where he scored twice himself, the England midfielder felt able to joyfully talk up his side’s prospects.

“This is the best team I have played with,” said Gerrard, a one-club man. “You look around the dressing room and from the keeper to the forwards we have some fantastic players and there is a confidence there. We have given ourselves a great chance [of winning the league]. We have to remain consistent and that is the key. If we want to stay at the top and be involved in this title race we have got to deal with the pressure. But if we keep playing like this we will be there.”

Liverpool assistant manager Sammy Lee echoed Gerrard’s words following a match where only impressive Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given prevented the visitors reaching double figures.

“I feel we’ve got it in us to win the title,” former Liverpool and England midfielder Lee said. “This is a very strong, determined and focused bunch of players and they have a real belief. It’s not arrogance, but we’re prepared to succeed and not prepared to fail. You’ll have to ask Manchester United [the reigning champions] and Chelsea [currently second] what message that sends out. All I can say is that we’ve got maximum points from two Christmas games and that’s all we can do.”

Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager who watched a comfortable victory from the stands as he continued recover from a kidney stone operation, opted to keep in-form forward Robbie Keane on the bench in spite of the absence of the injured Spaniard Fernando Torres.

It was a tactic that never looked like backfiring and Lee said: “We didn’t have Robbie or Fernando out there, but we’ve said on a number of occasions that this is a squad game. People have been critical on occasions when we have picked certain teams, but Rafa Benitez will pick the sides Rafa Benitez feels he should pick. The players who wear that red shirt have to be at a level where they can compete on any given day and they are.”

So impressive was Gerrard’s display, he was applauded off the field by both sets of supporters when substituted in the second half.

“It just shows the knowledge of, and respect for, football they have on Tyneside,” Lee said.

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