Steven Gerrard declared that he will head into the 2013-14 season feeling fitter than ever before.
The captain’s Liverpool career so far will be commemorated at Anfield on Saturday when he’ll lead the team out against Olympiacos for his testimonial.
However, having recently signed a contract extension with the club, Gerrard insists he’ll head into the new campaign in prime condition to help spearhead the Reds’ quest for the success.
Asked by reporters at Melwood if he was feeling as fit as ever, he replied: “I do, actually. But that is not just because of the preseason work I’ve done so far, I think it’s been over the last 14 to 16 months since I had my groin fixed — I haven’t felt better.
“In preseason so far I’ve done the majority of the training and played all the minutes in the games — I feel really good and strong.”
Gerrard believes it’s not just himself who’ll open up the new season in top condition.
The 33-year-old feels the grueling work the squad have been put through in preseason so far by head of fitness and conditioning Ryland Morgans will pay dividends once the campaign gets up and running.
“The squad are in very good condition — preseason has gone perfectly up until this point,” Gerrard said.
“Personally, it’s been the most difficult preseason we’ve had and the training has been brutal. We’ve got a fitness coach [Ryland Morgans] in who has been here for close to eight months now and has put us through our paces.
“I think the quality in our performances has shown in the games. We’re yet to concede a goal and we’re scoring freely. So far so good — there’s still a long way to go and a lot of hard work to be put in, but we couldn’t be in better condition at this stage.”
The new season will represent Brendan Rodgers‘ second at the Anfield helm — and Gerrard is convinced the manager’s year of experience as Liverpool manager will make a difference.
Indeed, the No. 8 points to the Reds’ outstanding form in the second half of last term and insists that must be replicated from the very first whistle against Stoke City on August 17.
“That’ll help us,” Gerrard said, when reflecting on the knowledge Rodgers will have garnered over the past year. “It was always going to take time for the players to get used to Brendan’s ways because his ways are different than most managers, and visa versa.
“I think there was a five-six-month settling in period and then the form was terrific from then onwards. We, basically, need to start this season as we finished last — which was in incredible form. If we can produce that consistently, we’ll challenge for top-four places.”
With Jamie Carragher having retired at the end of last season and Pepe Reina joining Napoli on loan earlier this week, journalists were eager to know if Gerrard would feel an extra sense of responsibility on his shoulders.
“I suppose there is, but I never shirk responsibility at this club,” he replied. “I was given the captaincy at the age of 21, 22 so I know what pressure and responsibility is all about — I’ve managed to live with it for 10 years.
“I think it’s also down to other players in the group. Now that Jamie’s left and Pepe’s gone I think it’s time for the likes of Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva, Glen Johnson and other experienced players to come behind me and help me lead this team to big things. The talent’s certainly there, now we just have to deliver.”
Kolo Toure and Simon Mignolet are among four new signings drafted in to replace the outgoing Carragher and Reina — and Gerrard is confident they can rise to the challenge.
“If we don’t start well everyone will be saying we’re missing Pepe and Jamie but if we start well people will be talking about how well Kolo Toure’s done and how well Simon Mignolet’s started,” he said.
“We’ll have to wait and see whether those players are going to be missed or not, but they’ve been two phenomenal players for this club for many years so there is bound to be a bit of change and a bit of difference around the place.
“But we’ll manage. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher or Pepe Reina — the club moves on. The club’s bigger than any individual and we all need to just cope without players now.”
While Gerrard will lead Liverpool’s assault on next season as club captain, he insists the responsibility for success is a collective one.
“It’s the players’ responsibility and also the staff as well,” he said. “We need to try and break back into the top four to get that pull back that we had four or five years ago when we were comfortably in the Champions League year in year out and we were challenging to win it.”
“I think this club’s history and size of the club speaks for itself,” he concluded. “We’ve just been on a tour and played in front of nearly a quarter of a million people in 10 days so I think that shows everyone the size of this club.
“I went to Bangkok in 2003 and the club was huge. I went in 2013 recently and it’s gone even bigger.
“Players who come to the club now and help get the club back into the Champions League will experience some of the biggest nights of their career because playing European football in front of this crowd is different than any other crowd. It’s the best crowd to play in front of.”