Gerard warns new recruits over 'unacceptable results'
Steven Gerrard is demanding another major shake-up at Anfield. The difference this time is he is not advocating an overhaul of players, owners or management.
Ahead of tonight's Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City, the only change Gerrard expects is in attitude and application.
He has warned the club's newest recruits that they must come to terms with the distinct demands of being a Liverpool player and prove that the latest Anfield rebuild is not built on flimsy foundations.
Kenny Dalglish's rare public criticism of his players following their soulless defeat to Bolton was backed up with a frank team summit at Melwood on Monday.
It was not just the £110m-worth of fresh blood that was contaminated by the performance at the Reebok, but they are the ones under most scrutiny.
Gerrard does not agree with the targeting of the expensive players, but he is not particularly sympathetic to anyone's cause either.
The pricey names are put directly to him. Andy Carroll, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing. They are not performing, he is told.
"We're all big men and we have to take it on the chin," he says, shrugging off any notion the assessment is unjust. "Those players know themselves. They know how they are playing. They know what form they are in.
"The manager has been critical to our faces. When you put in a performance like we did, you expect criticism, especially off your manager.
"The people new to the club will appreciate and understand that a bit more now. You can't do it here. The fans won't accept it, they don't deserve it and it's not allowed.
"Otherwise you get shouted at and criticised by your manager like we have all experienced. We need to show a reaction because performances like that, individually and collectively, aren't good enough for this club. As captain of the team that is down to me and he went through all of us.
"We all know those three players mentioned are good players. What I can say is that those players are working so hard to put in good performances. They are not giving up; they are not throwing the towel in. The effort is there. Maybe they just need a little bit of luck, something to turn their way and they can go on a fine run.
"The important thing is to move on from it fast. If we perform like that against Manchester City, there will be no Wembley trip."
The Liverpool captain has never passively backed players and staff without substance, so any bullish defence of the new-look side should not be dismissed as a chief lieutenant toeing the line.
In the past, he has been the strongest advocate for an upheaval and hoisted the red flag highest, but the youthful zest for revolution at the first hint of trouble is no longer there. Without being asked about the manager's position, he volunteers dismay that Dalglish's own role is being questioned.
"Change happens at football clubs year in and year out because everyone is desperate for success," says Gerrard. "Change happens all the time. But the few whispers about a change of manager after one defeat is absolutely ludicrous and I just take no notice.
"For me the thing that needs to change is the people who are here need to try and not put in performances like the one against Bolton and get back to the way we've been 95pc of the time under Kenny which has been very good.
"We are playing better football and we are a stronger squad. I will argue to the death with anyone who says we are not as good a squad as last year, but you are judged on results.
"Our targets were to get into the top four and go on two long runs in the cup, and it's still possible. Why change? Why are we crying out for change?
"I don't think we are far away. I think we are close. We have proved on our day we can beat anyone in the league. But on the other hand we have also proved that we can lose to anyone in the league. That is what we have to learn. We have to be more ruthless.
"We're six points off fourth and there are 16 games left. You're not telling me that this team and the players we've got here are not capable of making that up? The sides who we are competing with aren't consistent. Man United lost 3-0 at Newcastle the other week, Chelsea drew with Norwich and Arsenal have lost their last three. Why isn't fourth possible? Why are people crying out for change?
"Don't get me wrong, it's not all great here. We've got a fight on for fourth but we had a fight on at the start of the season when we were telling people our aims for the season.
"At the end of this week we could be going to Wembley, we could be in the fifth round of the FA Cup and six points off fourth.
"The flip side of that is different, but big weeks happen at big football clubs and this is a big week.
"We totally understand as a group that the media and certain sections of supporters will be getting frustrated. But it is down to us to put it right.
"We all know what it's about at Liverpool. If you get a bad result some people cry out for change but you need to accept that and get on with it. We need to start turning draws into wins and avoid performances like Bolton.
"That's what needs to change. If we had lost three or four of those games I wouldn't have the belief, but to draw and miss out by little fine margins tells me we are close. We have had big injuries to big players. The way Lucas was playing, no team wouldn't miss him. I have been out for a long time. Any team would miss Luis Suarez."
There is an argument that Carling Cup success would be a temporary consolation.
An individual cup battle with City can be won, but longer-term surely the war for Champions League territory is already lost?
"I'd drive myself mad if I went to bed every night thinking about that, wouldn't I?" said Gerrard. "I've got to think about the next prize and it's the Carling Cup. I can't control what's happening at Man City. I can only try and influence what is happening at Liverpool. That's what I've got to focus on.
"I totally understand there is a balance for the club financially. I understand that top four is massive and at the beginning of the season it is probably the main aim, but as a player I don't want to be saying I finished in the top four, four or five times. I want to look back and say I won the Carling Cup four or five times."
It is 16 years since Liverpool were at Wembley. It is five since they played any major final. Tonight has more than a season-defining feel about it. It may determine the validity of Gerrard's assessment that only minds, not personnel, need altering.
"It will mean nothing to me to lead the team at Wembley," said Gerrard. "But to lift the Cup at Wembley would mean an awful lot. To get to Wembley is the target, to win it is the dream." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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