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Wed 31 Dec 2008 08:50 PM

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Gerrard has Benitez's 'full support'

Liverpool boss gives backing after team captain and English star is charged with assault.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez threw his weight behind club captain Steven Gerrard on Wednesday after the England midfielder was charged earlier this week with assault in an alleged bar brawl.

"Steven is our captain and a key player for us, but more than this, I know him as a nice person," Benitez told the club's official website.

"I sat down with him this morning and had a very good talk with him about the situation and I was also able to speak at length with our club lawyer," the Spaniard added.

"Steven explained to me what had happened and I told him he has my full support and backing, along with everyone else at the football club," said Benitez, back at Liverpool's Melwood training ground for the first time since his kidney stone operation a fortnight ago.

"He's trained with the other lads this [Wednesday] morning after a couple of days off for the squad and is keen now to focus solely on his football.

"We've worked very hard to get into the position we're in going through to the New Year and all of us are determined to keep that progress going.

"We'll do whatever we can to support Steven in the weeks ahead, but we're now concentrating on our preparation for the FA Cup game at Preston this weekend."

Gerrard, released on police bail, is free to play in Saturday's match.

The 28-year-old was charged along with two other men who were also arrested at around 2:30am local time (0230GMT) Monday after the incident at the Lounge Inn restaurant and bar in Southport, near Liverpool in northwest England.

The venue's disc jockey, a 34-year-old man, required hospital treatment after suffering facial injuries.

According to the Evening Standard, Gerrard had a dispute with the DJ over a song he wanted played.

The Sun daily cited a witness as saying the DJ "pushed Gerrard in the chest, and almost instinctively Gerrard hit back with his elbow".

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said Gerrard and his two co-accused would be appearing at North Sefton Magistrates' Court on January 23.

Monday's incident occurred hours after Liverpool won 5-1 at Newcastle United on Sunday, with Gerrard scoring two goals. Also charged were John Doran, 29, and Ian Smith, 19, both from Liverpool.

The Reds head into the New Year with a three-point lead over Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table.

Liverpool won the last of their record 18 English titles in 1990 and keeping star player Gerrard's ongoing availability is widely considered essential if they are to win the Premier League this season.

A Liverpool spokesman said Tuesday that Gerrard had been an "outstanding servant" to the club and promised him "all the support he needs at this time."

Gerrard, who could be jailed for up to five years if convicted, has played 70 times for England and captained his country.

Press reports said Gerrard's current status would not affect his England career.

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