Having secured their first league win away at Norwich last weekend following a tough set of fixtures to start the season, Liverpool faced the prospect of four consecutive home games and the chance to build up some real momentum after a series of impressive performances and encouraging results; things didn’t work out as planned, though. Having somehow contrived to lose at home to Udinese in the Europa League on Thursday despite comprehensively outplaying them, the Reds laboured to a 0-0 draw against an unambitious Stoke side, who seemed more concerned about kicking the opposition from pillar to post than attempting to try and win the game.
Liverpool enjoyed the lion’s share of possession without really doing anything with it, and Tony Pulis was happy for his side to sit deep and let the home side attempt to break them down, which, despite hitting the woodwork four times, they failed to do on a regular basis. Suarez played well, but lacked any real support, most notably from the midfield trio who have previously shown a willingness to push forward and be a threat from deep. Sahin was anonymous, and it was clear he had never faced anything quite like the Potters who, for a side that ( to their credit) have established themselves as a solid Premier League side, are wholly incapable of doing the basics rights regularly through 90 minutes.
From a personal point of view, my main concern – and he was by no means one of our worst players – was the performance, and the continued metamorphosis, of our captain, Steven Gerrard. With the game in dire need of some inspiration, he attempted to - as he has done so many times in the past - drag the game by the scruff of its neck and lead us to victory, but it was just wasn’t happening. His inconsistency this season, for me, suggests that not only does he lack the physical capability to play two games a week throughout the season, but that he is still struggling to curb his natural all-action style in an attempt to adapt to Rodgers’ system.
His inconsistency this season, for me, suggests that not only does he lack the physical capability to play two games a week throughout the season, but that he is still struggling to curb his natural all-action style in an attempt to adapt to Rodgers’ system.
When discussing Gerrard’s ability, performances and worth to the side – even when attempting to look at things objectively – it must be done in a cautious manner. Not so much because he is infallible – nobody is – but because given his contribution to the club throughout his career and the loyalty he showed in the face of some appealing, lucrative offers, Gerrard has earned himself some slack. The 20-goal, player of the year seasons are a thing of the past, but a player with his obvious ability can still play a key role in the side – and despite the drop off in his level of performances over the past three seasons, he is still one of only two genuine match-winners in Liverpool’s squad.
His performances this season have ranged from magnificent to worrying, and he seems to switch positions in the midfield three depending on the circumstances of the game, which may explain some of his struggles. He has, at times, played well in the deeper role alongside Joe Allen, although that requires him to be more disciplined and conservative in possession in certain situations, something he surprisingly seems to struggle with. But given his previous form playing off the striker, most notably off Fernando Torres from 2007-10, he seems a more natural fit as the most advanced midfielder - and maybe once Lucas returns to the side he will be deployed further forward.
Granted, he impressed for England in the Euros playing a deeper role, but that was in a much more outdated, direct system where the impetus was on keeping your shape and forcing the opposition to try and break you down. In a Brendan Rodgers system the emphasis is on movement, retaining possession until the right option for a more penetrating pass presents itself, and there have been times when his failure to do so has led to the opposition breaking away and scoring. Rodgers has also spoke of how playing his 4-3-3 system is extremely physically demanding, and it is no surprise that Gerrard’s best performances have come when he has not played midweek; likewise his worst performances have come when he played three days earlier. Hopefully, he’ll realise that he can’t juggle playing for club and country and still play at a high level anymore, and retire from international duty.
He has, at times, played well in the deeper role alongside Joe Allen, although that requires him to be more disciplined and conservative in possession in certain situations, something he surprisingly seems to struggle with.
Having released a new book recently, Gerrard did a few interviews where he admitted he’s unlikely he’ll win the league as a player, and he certainly seems more at peace with where he’s at in his career. He also spoke of his confidence in his ability to play the deeper role eventually when his legs go, but still thinks he has the fitness and energy to play a more attacking role, and we’ll find out the validity of his claims over the course of the season. As the most complete footballer I’ve been fortunate enough to watch in my lifetime there is no doubt he has the talent to do so, but we’ve seen examples in the past of top players just not being the right fit in a certain system.
This is not a reactionary piece on the back of a few mediocre performances, it is a genuine concern given the drop off in performances over recent years, and how you get the best out of your most influential player. He’s no longer playing at a world-class level, but that doesn’t mean he can’t rediscover that form. The clock, however, is ticking.
You can follow Alex on twitter @woolfc
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