Brendan Rodgers has advised Steven Gerrard to tread carefully in Liverpool's next four games with his influential captain at risk of a two-match suspension from the Premier League title race.
The Liverpool midfielder received his ninth booking of the season in Saturday's 6-3 win at Cardiff City and will incur a two-match ban should a 10th arrive before the next cut-off date, which is up to and including 13 April. Rodgers' title challengers play Sunderland, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United and Manchester City in that period and the Liverpool manager has spoken to the captain about avoiding a costly suspension.
Gerrard was booked only twice in 21 club appearances from the start of the season but has collected seven yellow cards in his last 10 outings for Liverpool, a period that has seen the 33-year-old drop into a holding midfield role with considerable success. Lucas Leiva is now fit again following a knee injury and offers experienced cover for Gerrard in the holding role but, with Liverpool pursuing a first league title since 1990, Rodgers wants his commanding captain available at all times.
The Liverpool manager said: "We just have to cope with the situation. I have spoken to him about it and we just have to be that extra bit careful. I think he has been very unlucky. His last two bookings have been unlucky. The one against Manchester United should never have been a booking.
"He won a header that was very difficult to win and he was unfortunate against Cardiff at the weekend because he committed a foul which also should not have been a booking.
"We didn't help him because we gave away the ball so cheaply. He has been unfortunate picking up some unnecessary bookings that were not through him. It's a role he can play and he will find a way, I'm sure. He just has to be a bit more cautious but he is clever enough to get through that."
Liverpool host Gus Poyet's relegation-threatened team on Wednesday and hope fierce rivals Manchester United do them a favour before then by taking points off Manchester City at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
Rodgers skilfully avoided stating his support for United but said: "We're training at Anfield in the evening so I will settle down and watch it after that. I'm really looking forward to it. Whatever the result that's best for you, then you always root for that don't you? But I am more concerned with how we do on Wednesday to be honest."
Rodgers believes the three goals conceded at Cardiff demonstrated Liverpool are not the finished article this season but is adamant the club are on course to end an arduous wait for a 19th league championship. "We haven't won it for a long time and it may or may not be this year but there is no doubt we are on the right road to winning a title here," he said.
"We are nowhere near the finished article but while we are learning and improving we will hopefully continue to pick up the points.
"We are enjoying the moment and the football. We still have a hell of a way to go to be near where I want us to be but we are certainly making strides and are on the right path. It is by no means the finished article but we are evolving and I take great pride in that.
"It is about consistency and doing it year after year. I feel there is still quite a lot of improvements to make. We have been asked questions in games and have come through and I am sure we will be asked many more questions."
Rodgers, who confirmed he expects Fabio Borini to resume his career at Anfield once his season's loan at Sunderland ends, added: "It's lazy to say we concede cheap goals. The aim is to win playing attractive football.
"Every manager will tell you if you come up against an opponent who shows no fear in their game and can flood forward in numbers and get goals that is always what can make you think and you know you need to set your team up to counter that."