LONDON (Reuters) - Leaving a fit Steven Gerrard out of a Liverpool team to face Manchester United would until recently have been considered an act of madness, but it is a genuine dilemma facing boss Brendan Rodgers on Sunday.
The Liverpool captain came back from injury as a second-half substitute in Liverpool's 1-0 win over Swansea City on Monday following a five-week layoff.
But with the club having coped manfully in his absence, there is no guarantee he will immediately muscle his way back into the starting lineup for his last game against Liverpool's fierce north-west rivals before joining LA Galaxy.
Liverpool have played six Premier League games this season without Gerrard and won them all.
They have a win percentage of 41 from the 34 games in all competitions that Gerard has played this season and 69 from the 13 games he has missed.
That alone will provide food for thought for Rodgers, who sought to play down the growing debate about Gerrard's role in the team by rallying behind the former England skipper on Friday.
"It's simple. It's been unfair on the boy," Rodgers told reporters.
"This is a guy who has been, and still is, a wonderful player. But when he was out injured, we had people trying to sensationalise the story. People were trying to write him off when he was injured.
"He's back now, and it's maybe not the story you want, but he's totally committed. He's a fan of this club, and his support for guys like (Jordan) Henderson, (Joe) Allen, has been fantastic."
Allen and Henderson have undoubtedly flourished in recent weeks while Gerrard was injured.
The former has adopted greater on-pitch responsibility and taken on some of Gerrard's goalscoring mantle with spectacular strikes against Manchester City and Burnley, while a scrappy goal against Swansea took his tally to three in three league games.
Having been handed a run in the team, Allen has also shown qualities that have been largely unsighted since he joined the club, recycling possession with confidence and precision.
Liverpool have dragged themselves back into top-four contention and now sit two points behind Sunday's opponents, who occupy the final Champions League qualifying spot, with nine games to play.
Rodgers is unlikely to jeopardise their chances with sentiment, but at the same time rightly pointed out that Gerrard's introduction against Swansea "stabilised" the team.
Lucas Leiva's return from injury is also likely to provide further competition in midfield with Rodgers confirming the Brazilian will be assessed before United's visit to Anfield.
(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by xxx)