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Gerrard to face Preston despite assault charge

2 January 2009 14:50

LIVERPOOL, England (AFP) - Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will play against Preston in Saturday's FA Cup third round tie despite the assault charge hanging over him, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez said on Friday.

Gerrard and two other men were charged with actual bodily harm and affray earlier this week following an alleged incident at a Southport nightclub that left the venue's disc jockey needing hospital treatmen for facial injuries.

The England midfielder, who could face a prison sentence, was held by police for several hours before being released on bail, but Benitez has made it clear that Gerrard will lead the Premier League team at Deepdale this weekend.

"He will play in the match - he is ready and is a great professional and it is best for him to be focused on football," Benitez said.

"Steven has been okay, training normally. I am supporting him 100 per cent. The best thing for us is that he is focused on football, training well and he will play.

"Everyone has been supporting him. We know what's going on and it's clear that it's a special situation but we have to support him because we trust him.

"He is a professional and a very, very good one. He will just be thinking about football. Hopefully he will score some goals, play as well as he was before and everyone will be talking about the game.

"I do not believe he will be distracted. He wants to play football and concentrate just on that. He will be thinking about playing well, scoring goals and making sure the club progresses to the next round.

"If we want to help him, the best thing is to train normally and organise things in the same way. And to give him the opportunity to play football."

"He will get that chance at Preston, hopefully by scoring goals he will know how pleased our fans will be. It is the only way to handle things."

Liverpool will also have Spain striker Fernando Torres back for the first time after seven games out with a hamstring injury as Benitez plans to rotate his side for the trip to the Championship club.

"Maybe we will change some players but we'll still have a very good team on the pitch," he said.

"Torres will be in the squad. If we need him he can play. He is not 100 per cent because he hasn't got the match fitness. But he is ready.

"We will try to progress. The FA Cup is a fantastic competition for us so we'll try to progress and go to Wembley if possible.

"It will be difficult. Preston are doing well in the league and we know that to play against Liverpool is always a motivation. We know it will be a classic Cup game."

Benitez hinted he may not add to his squad in the January transfer window even though Liverpool are challenging in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

"If we need something we will try. But we are in a good position and we'll try to use the players we have now," he added.

Meanwhile, Jamie Carragher believes Liverpool's record of shock early exits from the FA Cup should ensure they have plenty of motivation to beat Preston.

Since winning the competition in 1992 against Sunderland, Liverpool have been eliminated six times by teams from the division below.

"Over the years our record hasn't been that good. We either seem to go all the way and win it, or get knocked out early," Carragher said.

"We're never in the quarter-finals or semi-finals on a regular basis, which is what we should be doing.

"We do that in the Champions League nearly every year and have to start doing it in the FA Cup too."

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