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Benitez urges England not to risk Gerrard

The Liverpool manager pleads Steve McClaren not to risk the star midfielder for two crunch Euro 2008 qualifiers, unless he is fully fit.

sports Updated: Sep 03, 2007 22:36 IST

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has pleaded with his England counterpart Steve McClaren not to risk star midfielder Steven Gerrard for two crunch Euro 2008 qualifiers, unless he is fully fit.

England play Israel and Russia at Wembley on September 8 and 12 respectively but they have a huge doubt hanging over Gerrard.

He is recovering from a broken toe and missed Liverpool's 6-0 thrashing of Derby at the weekend.

But Gerrard assured McClaren he will be fit for the Euro 2008 double-header, something which has his club manager worried.

"We have not taken any risks with Steven at Liverpool and I would not expect England to take any risks with him," said Benitez.

"We do not want Steven to play for England with any painkilling injections. We did that against Chelsea and it took four to five days for him to recover to be able to train again."

With England requiring a minimum of four points from the two Wembley games to retain a realistic hope of reaching next summer's finals in Austria and Switzerland, McClaren's need to have Gerrard available is obvious.

Earmarked for a central midfield berth, Gerrard's importance is even more acute given the absence of Frank Lampard.

Even with the addition of Emile Heskey, there is a distinct lack of proven goalscoring ability in McClaren's squad and no-one has forgotten how Gerrard virtually single-handedly dragged the Three Lions to victory over Andorra in March.

Knowing England's final five qualifiers will lead only to the sack if results do not go his way, McClaren has adopted a 'get-tough' policy in his dealings with clubs.

While Andrew Johnson, Alan Smith and Jermain Defoe have their own merits, Heskey does look set to step into the breach against Israel on Saturday, when Peter Crouch will be suspended.

Even if he does not score himself, Heskey's sheer bulk should, in theory, keep an Israeli defence marshalled by Tal Ben Haim fully occupied, allowing Michael Owen, Gerrard and Joe Cole to profit.

Cole has questioned how valuable McClaren feels he is to the England cause having substituted the Chelsea man against Germany last month.

However, it appears Cole remains a firm favourite and a virtual certainty to retain his spot on the left-hand side of McClaren's midfield.

"Joe is very valuable to England," said McClaren.

"He hardly played for us last season and we missed him. He showed how important he is when he came back against Estonia in the summer and scored."

"I have made a point to him about his performances and he knows what he has to do."

Meanwhile, McClaren has called Everton defender Joleon Lescott into his squad for the first time as a replacement for hamstring injury victim Sol Campbell.

Lescott was disappointed to be overlooked in the first place after impressing for England B against Albania at the end of last season.

But, having impressed during Everton's excellent start to the campaign, and scoring the last-minute winner at Bolton on Saturday, the former Wolves star was an obvious choice once Campbell pulled out on Sunday.

"Joleon has been looking very solid for Everton this season, and has also scored a couple of goals," McClaren said. "He is big and strong and is a threat at set-pieces as well."