|Gerrard in 1999 – his long service has made him a firm fans’ favourite [GALLO/GETTY]|
There will be mixed emotions for Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard as he pulls on his Reds shirt for the 500th time against Blackburn at Ewood Park.
The milestone is an immense achievement for the talismanic 29-year-old, who first made his debut in the English Premier League for Liverpool’s senior team in 1998 – co-incidentally against Blackburn.
“It means everything to me personally to get to 500 games because I’m a local boy,” Gerrard said.
“My dream when I was young was always just to play one game for Liverpool, so to reach this milestone is a really proud moment for myself and my family.
Gerrard will be hoping to maintain team morale following last week’s 2-0 over city rivals Everton, although he appears to have written off their hopes of an EPL title win.
“I think we have to be realistic,” Gerrard told Talksport Radio.
“At the moment we’re out of the title race but we will keep trying to get back in it.
“Chelsea are looking really strong at the moment but our main target is to get back in the top four. We’re coming off the back of a fantastic win at Everton and we want to continue that against Blackburn and try and go on a run.”
Liverpool thought they had turned their poor season around in October when they beat defending champions Manchester United to halt a four-match losing streak, but quickly slumped to another two losses.
But Gerrard knows a loss to a buoyant Blackburn side could derail them yet again.
“We were so close last season, but with virtually the same group of players we have under-achieved so far this season.
“What we’ve learned is that if you under perform you will fall behind as we’ve done”, said Gerrard.
“But I’ve got total belief in my team-mates that moving forward we can challenge for it.
“It has been too long since the club won the title and because it’s missing from my collection it’s the one I’m most desperate for”
“It has been too long since the club won the title and because it’s missing from my collection it’s the one I’m most desperate for.
“It’s a very difficult trophy to win but we won’t stop trying.”
Recent wins over Debrecen in the Champions League and Everton have extended the Reds’ unbeaten run to five matches.
One more game without defeat would match their longest unbeaten streak of the season.
“After the Debrecen game we were very down because we were knocked out of the Champions League,” Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel said.
“Now we have won two games in a row, our confidence is increasing and I hope it continues.”
Spain striker Fernando Torres has been ruled out of the Blackburn clash because he has yet to recover fully from a groin injury.
Torres has scored 10 goals in 10 Premier League matches this season but has not played since the 1-1 Champions League draw at Lyon on November 4.
Blackburn, though, are on a high after beating Chelsea in a shootout this week to reach the League Cup semi-finals.
Victory for Liverpool could lift them back into the Champions League qualifying places for the first time in more than two months.
Saturday December 5
Arsenal v Stoke
Sunday December 6
Everton v Tottenham
Liverpool are in fifth place with 23 points, two fewer than Arsenal and three fewer than third-place Tottenham.
Arsenal host Stoke after a pair of 3-0 losses that left them 13 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea and eliminated from the League Cup.
England forward Theo Walcott will be absent with long-term injury victims Robin van Persie and Kieran Gibbs, but manager Arsene Wenger has defender Bacary Sagna back in his squad following his recovery from an ankle injury.
“We had Sagna out injured but, normally, he will be available,” Wenger said.
“As for the other players we had injured, the long-term ones I do not even speak about.”
Chelsea are at Manchester City on Saturday without striker Salomon Kalou after he tore a thigh muscle against Blackburn. But Didier Drogba is in form with 15 goals in 18 matches this season and should be able to compensate for the absence of his Ivory Coast teammate.