The spotlight will be firmly fixed on Steven Gerrard when Liverpool and Aston Villa meet on Sunday at Wembley for a place in the FA Cup final.
Liverpool’s talismanic captain is available for selection for this weekend’s semi-final after serving a three-match ban following his uncharacteristic moment of madness against arch-rivals Manchester United.
Gerrard was sent off just 38 seconds after his introduction as a half-time substitute in the Premier League encounter for a reckless stamp on Ander Herrera, with his suspension robbing him of valuable game time heading into his final month as a Liverpool player.
The 34-year-old will join LA Galaxy at the end of the season, but only after Gerrard attempts to sign off at his beloved hometown club by winning the FA Cup, with the final set to take place on the midfielder’s birthday.
Brendan Rodgers knows how significant being able to select Gerrard again is.
“Steven has produced big moments in big games,” said the Liverpool boss.
“The most important thing is having him back.”
Rodgers must decide whether to jettison Gerrard and Martin Skrtel – who has completed a three-match ban of his own – back into his side or stick with the XI that started the 2-0 league win over Newcastle United on Monday.
Daniel Sturridge missed that game due to a hip injury and will be given as long as possible to prove his fitness for the Villa clash.
Liverpool, beaten FA Cup finalists in 2011-12, have been unconvincing in reaching the competition’s last four, requiring replays to beat Championship duo Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers.
And Rodgers’ men can ill-afford another lacklustre display if they are to set up the chance to give Gerrard the perfect send off, especially given Villa are rejuvenated under Tim Sherwood.
Sherwood has overseen three wins from his last six league games to lift Villa out of the relegation zone and has designs on stunning Liverpool.
“I don’t want my players to have any regrets after the game,” he said. “We’ll do everything we possibly can to make sure we’re back there in May.
“We’ve picked up some good results recently. It’s definitely a game we can win.”
Villa’s chances of doing precisely that could hinge on whether or not Gabby Agbonlahor – who netted the only goal in his side’s 1-0 league win at Anfield in September – passes a late fitness test after a hamstring injury.
Carlos Sanchez (suspended) and Ciaran Clark (medial ligament) are definitely out. Veteran goalkeeper Shay Given, who turns 39 on Monday, will start.
“Can we dare to dream?” is the view of UK Prime Minister and Villa fan David Cameron ahead of the Wembley showdown.
Gerrard will feel he has a point to prove to keep his own FA Cup dream alive.
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