Steven Gerrard’s place in Liverpool’s starting XI must be under increasing pressure right now, following another timid display against a rampant Arsenal at the weekend.
The 33-year-old was once the focal point of everything Liverpool did; a titan who drove games relentlessly for club and country – Olympiakos at Anfield and Germany in Munich come to mind.
But that player has been and gone, and that is the dilemma facing Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers.
Does he drop a peaked player, when that player is Steven Gerrard – his captain?
Knowing when a player has peaked can be difficult, as some – like Michael Owen – peak in their early 20s and others peak more around the 30 mark – think Patrick Vieira.
Gerrard though, has certainly peaked at 33 and it is obvious in his current style of play.
He’s not the Gerrard of old; driving through defences, making lung-busting runs and pulling the performances of his team-mates up to his level. He’s not at “that” level anymore.
His age, a marked dip in form and niggling injuries have all contributed to the slow but evident demise of a great.
Brendan Rodgers’ footballing philosophy doesn’t help the midfielder either; he isn’t the pivotal player he thrived on being in the Benitez era.
People will point to Frank Lampard as a marker that these comments are knee-jerk and unfounded, but Lampard still strives to get in the box and can dictate Chelsea games a lot more than Gerrard can for Liverpool.
There are solutions to Gerrard’s and Rodgers’ problem, but they come with risks attached.
The England captain’s role at Liverpool could be changed to accommodate him better, much like Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were later in their Manchester United careers.
Bring Gerrard into games where he can influence and drive Liverpool from midfield – Arsenal at the Emirates was a tough task for that.
The Arsenal own-brand of tiki-taka had Gerrard (& Co.) kicking thin-air at times, and in hindsight a more gnarly and energetic midfield might have been better in North London.
A more drastic solution is to drop Gerrard from the starting XI completely, but only to get him back on the training ground to find form, confidence and eke out whatever is left from a player that drove the club for a decade.
He will never get back to being that 2005-2009 Steven Gerrard, but he may be able to find glimpses of that old form.
It is a huge risk for any manager to drop a club captain, especially a local lad who has been the club’s best player for over a decade, but dropping Gerrard would have further ramifications than that.
The 33-year-old is also the England captain. If he wasn’t playing week in week out for Liverpool then England manager Roy Hodgson would too have to consider his position.
This complex situation proves that it is unlikely Rodgers will drop Gerrard unequivocally, but it is a tough call as it may be the answer to Liverpool genuinely challenging for the title.
By dropping Gerrard, or at least managing his game-time more astutely, Rodgers will be giving his club captain a better chance of securing that elusive Premier League medal.