Already I can hear the howls of derision arising from the north-west. Guys, it’s not something that I’m saying is true. It’s just a question I’m asking. OK, OK, so what’s the evidence behind such an outrageous proposition you may ask? Well, here it is. Now 33, and 34 before May is out, Gerrard has been plying his trade for Liverpool since 2000, playing over 450 games, and scoring more than a century of goals. It’s an outstanding record for a midfield player, and stands up against measure by almost anyone of his era. It also does not offer the insight into the talismanic effect he has had on the club over the years – the Champions League final in 2005 against AC Milan is an epic example. The argument runs however that the attributes that have given him his most successful periods, are now dimmed by age and years of wear and tear. In other words, the way that this has caused him to adapt what was his natural game into a new role makes him far less effective a component of the Liverpool team.
Looking back over his illustrious career, Gerrard’s best periods have been when, like in 2005, he was the all action midfield box-to-box player. Inspiring teammates by his lung-busting runs, crunching tackles and sheer will to win. Not only did he score goals – and lots of them, he scored big goals. The first one in the comeback against Milan. The famous “Andy Gray – tik a boo, son” one against Olympiacos, as Liverpool appeared to be unlikely to actually reach that famous final. These are the iconic goals that come to mind immediately. Liverpool fans will be able to quote so many more. The arrival of Fernando Torres, before the player moved to Chelsea and donned a cement overcoat along with his blue shirt, saw Gerrard repositioned almost as a second striker. Every inch what is now described in modern parlance as the ‘number ten’ his ability to read and feed the Spaniard’s runs contributed greatly to the success, and goals, that Torres enjoyed during that period. For Gerrard, playing in that position also allowed him to deploy his immaculate passing abilities in a way that hurt opponents. This may have been the period when Gerrard was at his most influential for Liverpool. Still possessing the required athletic abilities, but now with the refined ‘game-brain’ of a seasoned and canny campaigner, it may have been his zenith.
Time and tide waits for no man however, not even Steven Gerrard. As mentioned above, his age may now have curtailed many of the athletic abilities that were once his strengths and in the new regime under Brendan Rodgers, his role is seen as a much more deep lying playmaker. On Saturday evening, I heard Jamie Carragher describe it almost as a quarter-back role – an analogy from American Football. Of course he still retains the passing ability to fulfil such a role, but whereas in the ‘Torres days’ his passes would create goals, now they are more likely to draw admiring applause for their undeniable accuracy, but they’re pinged out to wide players, or perhaps advancing midfielders. Of course it progresses play, but it’s not the killer ball of the past. From his position in front of, or sometimes alongside, the centre backs, how could it possibly be?
For all his many, many qualities displayed over the years in Liverpool’s midfield, Gerrard has never been the ‘continuity’ player. The guy who sits in front of the back four and moves play along. It’s the unassuming and sometimes barely visible, but essential, role that Michael Carrick plays at Manchester United. It’s the role that Gerrard’s long-time sparring partner Frank Lampard also maybe has trouble with at Chelsea. The metronome movements and instinctive play of this role is simply not something Gerrard has done in the past. The fact doesn’t disparage his past many glories it’s just something that doesn’t seem to fit him well at the moment. He may grow into it, but at 33, is that likely? I’ve seen it argued – although I don’t necessarily agree - that Liverpool ‘function’ better with a midfield three of Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson. Each of them comfortable in their role, and offering fluency that may not be as evident with Gerrard there. Going back to Saturday’s game, when Carragher offered the description of his erstwhile team-mate, Paul Lambert deployed his Aston Villa team in a way to exploit what was a lack of defensive nous in Liverpool’s midfield. It was only solved when Lucas was added to the pot.
Without detracting anything from the outstanding career of Gerrard, and there’s still more to come, there may be the beginnings of a doubt in Rodgers’ mind as to whether how he currently deploys his talismanic captain is ideal. No-one’s saying that the captain should be discarded, but for the good of the team, the question has to be asked as to whether, in the current mode of play his role is what is needed. OK guys. Over to you for your opinions!
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