The Dugout - McAllister: Gerrard key on cup final day

Fri, 04 May 13:09:00 2012

Former Liverpool star Gary McAllister says Steven Gerrard could be a potential match-winner in the FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Steven Gerrard - 0

Your former club Liverpool are in the FA Cup final this weekend - what do you see as the keys to the game?

Well, obviously I am a bit biased, but I think the influence that Steven Gerrard has on the game is always big for Liverpool. Generally, when he plays well and is influential then Liverpool win. I think he is very key to Liverpool. He has helped win an FA Cup final for them in the past, against West Ham in 2006.

So Gerrard is very big for Liverpool, but their maverick forward Luis Suarez is very exciting. He is a player who can frustrate at times, as he can give the ball away too easily, but then at other times he is sublime. When it's cup-tie football and it's tight, you just need someone with that little bit of inspiration and magic, and he can produce that.

Defensively I don't think Liverpool have had much of a problem this season. Their goals against is as good as anybody in the league. But they have had a problem scoring goals.

I've been at Anfield a few times this season, and I have watched a lot of draws there against lesser teams. Against the bigger teams motivation hasn't been a problem, they can always raise their game. But the problem has been against the so-called lesser teams. I think in perhaps three of the five draws I have seen at Anfield this season the opposition goalkeeper has won Man of the Match, so that tells you something right away.

What matters more to players - consistent league performances, or cup runs and opportunities to win silverware?

The way things are now, Liverpool could drift into the bottom half of the table, that's a fact. That is the true reflection. I don't think you can kid Kenny Dalglish. There are not many wiser men, as far as I'm concerned. But that is the barometer of where you're at, where you finish in the league. The table doesn't lie. At the end of 38 games it tells you a lot of things.

I also think that Kenny will be aware that the four big summer signings – Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam – have had a big ask to just come in and shine. I think the expectation level at Liverpool has surprised them. Next season's going to be the big one for them.

Andy Carroll scored the winner in the semi-final - are there signs that Kenny Dalglish is starting to get the best out of him?

I have read things about how Kenny is starting to work out how Carroll operates. But I think the likely thing to have happened is that the penny has dropped for Carroll, and he has now figured out how to play for Liverpool. I think he has worked out that it maybe takes something a little bit different to shine there than at his previous team.

Chelsea have qualified for the Champions League final and are still fighting for a top-four finish - is there a danger that the mental and physical strain of those extra matches could eventually take its toll?

I suppose I can equate it to my time at Liverpool, though of course we were preparing for the UEFA Cup final rather than the Champions League. I can't remember feeling tired at any point during the run-in. Like Chelsea, we were also chasing fourth place in the league, as well as looking ahead to two cup finals.

Chelsea have got a big squad with plenty of experience. They have great momentum at the moment, and their players will not be able to wait to play every game. So there will be no apprehension or tiredness or taking their eye off the ball, because every game is bigger than the one before.

I don't want to be disrespectful to Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry, but they are not getting any younger. Each time they get to a final, they will appreciate that it could be their last chance to win a medal.

What are your memories of that FA Cup win in 2001?

As nice as it would have been to have won the Cup at Wembley, to win it at the Millennium Stadium was fantastic. It's a great arena. It was against Arsenal, and we got battered the whole game before Michael (Owen) came up with two wonderful goals late on.

But that UEFA Cup final was even better. When we went 2-0 up, I thought we were going to win by five or six, and then Alaves came storming back. To this day I'm sure that, when we got that Golden Goal, two or three of our boys turned to walk back to the halfway line because they thought we were going to kick off again. I'm not going to name names and make them look stupid, but they may, or may not, have been Germans.

How would you assess the season Aston Villa have had?

It's been quite alarming watching it. Your eye is always taken to your former club, where you have played or worked. Last season, when Gerard [Houllier] got ill, we managed to just get up into the top half. We finished strongly, the players were buying into things and we finished ninth.

This season they lost two key players in Ashley Young and Downing. I think there was maybe a change of tack from the owners as well as far as the money that had been spent there in the past compared to what is being spent there now.

Do they have what it takes to stay up?

It's been tough. There have been injuries to key players at crucial times, so they have had to blood some young players that maybe would not have played the amount of games they have had to play. I think they will just have enough to stay up, which is great.

But that's the big positive, these young players getting games and minutes on the pitch. They are a special club when it comes to producing youngsters. They have a fantastic set-up there, and they do bring players through. They are very hard and strict with them, but I think come the time they get to the first team it stands them in good stead.

Villa have used a lot of young players this season - which ones impressed you most during your time at the club?

There's Marc Albrighton, Nathan Baker, Eric Lichaj, Ciaran Clark, Samir Carruthers, and there's more underneath. A lot of credit has got to go to the youth set-up there, which is special.

Another of your former clubs, Coventry, have been relegated to League One. What is your take on events there?

I was there in 2002, and I feel that since then it has got worse. That was the year that ITV Digital went bust, which had an effect on many clubs, including Coventry, who were staving off administration. Not many people know that, but it was a continual fight to stay out of it. Then they were making plans to move to a new stadium, and most of the money they got from selling Highfield Road went on avoiding administration.

Since then, every season has dragged the club closer and closer to where they are now, relegation into the third tier, which is bad because Coventry is a really big club.

I think they can look at what Nigel Adkins has done at Southampton, and think it is possible to win back-to-back promotions and return to the Barclays Premier League. They need to get back on an even keel and bring some young players through.

What have you been doing since leaving Aston Villa last year?

I have done some television work and some things for the SFA, but mostly I've been spending time with my four kids. When the older ones were younger I was away a lot of the time, so I've just been enjoying that.

What are your plans for the future - would you like to get back into front-line management?

I still like to be involved. I still go to games and get excited about watching football. I enjoyed working under Gerard Houllier (at Villa). He gave me a great opportunity to go and play for him at Liverpool when I was 35, and it was a successful couple of years. So when he asked me to be his assistant I knew he would respect my thoughts on the game, and that we were very much a team.

I enjoyed working under a very experienced manager in Gerard, but I also liked being my own man, as I was at Leeds United and Coventry City. When Gerard took ill, I took over for the final six or seven games at Villa last season and really enjoyed that too, because then the pressure is on you. When you have played at the level that I have played at, pressure is the thing you look forward to.

Gary McAllister was speaking to Yahoo!'s 'The Dugout' through its partnership with the League Managers Association