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Stevie G the key to Liverpool hopes

Steven Gerrard was 9 years old and growing up on the mean streets of Liverpool the last time that city's most famous club was crowned king of English soccer.

The 1989-90 season marked Liverpool's 10th title in 15 years and further established its dominance of the English game. Back then, it was barely fathomable that the Anfield outfit could go a couple of campaigns without capturing England's top club prize, let alone 19.

However, nearly two decades later, that is precisely the kind of historical drought that Gerrard and his colleagues have to overcome this season if they are to finally end a generation of heartache.

If the English Premier League title is to be pried out of Manchester United's grasp over the closing weeks, then Gerrard, the hometown boy, will have the most critical role.

Soccer doesn't have a Most Valuable Player award; World Footballer of the Year honors are normally based on pure skill and style. Yet if Gerrard, whose hat trick helped Liverpool close the gap on United to a single point thanks to a 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa on Sunday, continues in this vein, he could certainly make an argument for being the most productive figure in the game.

Guus Hiddink, back before he took over as Chelsea's interim head coach, certainly thought so. In December, Hiddink lauded Gerrard as the finest player on the planet, and few who witnessed his efforts against Villa will have not enough arguments.

Sure, Gerrard does not possess silky footwork at the level displayed by Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Yet his technique bears up to the strictest scrutiny. Then there is his physical aptitude, with a tireless work ethic and a physique powerful enough to emerge from any midfield tussle.

It is Gerrard's drive and spirit, though, that will be needed most over the coming weeks. He has a team, a club and half a city to carry on his shoulders, and an unwanted block of history to erase.

Weekend First XI

1. Get him an Advil

Landon Donovan did score two goals in his return to the Los Angeles Galaxy, but the club's performance in a 2-2 home draw with D.C. United will have done nothing to ease his frustration. Donovan hoped to turn his recent loan spell at Bayern Munich into a permanent deal, yet it now looks as if he will be stuck in Major League Soccer for a couple more years.

2. Get him a beer

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Inter Milan flopped again in the UEFA Champions League, but the big Swedish striker reinforced his credentials as one of Europe's most dangerous hit men with two goals in a 3-0 victory against Reggina – including one stunning 30-yard chip. But keep an eye on Ibrahimovic. He wants out of Italy this summer and Inter is not minded to pay his exorbitant wage demands.

3. Get him some earplugs

Robinho was in the headlines recently when he was questioned by police in relation to a sexual assault claim. He is set for more of the wrong sort of attention in the coming weeks. In a court case in Brazil, Pele, widely regarded as the greatest player in history, insisted the Manchester City player has a problem with recreational drugs. Robinho has utterly refuted the claim, yet it will once again put him in the media spotlight.

4. Four corners

• Can Giovanni Trapattoni a huge coup by committing Arsene Wenger to a new long-term contract?

• Maradona branded a traitor by Boca Juniors fans? Surely not?

• Just a quiet weekend in Athens?

5. Catch a flight to …

Porto. The delicious local port wine isn't the only reason to visit this vibrant city. Portugal takes on Sweden in World Cup qualifying next weekend with both teams having struggled so far. For the loser, South Africa will seem a long way away.

6. A round of applause for …

Fredy Montero. The Colombian striker made sure Seattle Sounders FC made a superb MLS debut by scoring twice in the expansion side's 3-0 thrashing of the New York Red Bulls.

7. Get him a Kleenex

Brad Guzan. The former Chivas USA goalkeeper's first action in the English Premier League was to pick the ball out of the back of the net. Guzan came on as substitute for Aston Villa when Brad Friedel was sent off, and he was powerless to stop Steven Gerrard's penalty as Liverpool clinched a resounding win.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Freddy Adu. United States national team coach Bob Bradley has called Adu into the squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago, and he wants to see if Adu is finally capable of living up to his potential.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

David Beckham. What, again? Well, rumors continue to circulate that Beckham will not be coming back to MLS at all, not even for a few months at the end of the European season. Either way, there wouldn't be too many tears shed in the Galaxy locker should he remain in Italy.

10. Get excited about …

La Liga. The Spanish title is heating up nicely, with in-form Real Madrid having revived its season with 12 wins from 13 league games. Its latest comfortable win was a 3-0 cruise past Almeria, narrowing the gap behind leaders Barcelona to six points.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Stephany Brito, girlfriend of AC Milan's rising superstar Alexandre Pato.