At the start of October I wrote a piece on ST regarding Steven Gerrard and what the future holds for him. It was, generally, a piece about how we can make the most of his talents and what position he would be most effective in; I presumed the more games he’d get under his belt, the more accustomed he’d get to the role he’s asked to play in Brendan Rodgers’ system. But nearly two months later, the concerns I have are no longer about what his best position is, but what on earth do Liverpool do with a man who is now a shell of his former self.
It’s no secret that his form has tailed off dramatically over the past few seasons – that PFA award winning season of 08/09 seems a distant memory now - but it has got to the point now where I wouldn’t start him in our strongest eleven; I’d go for Lucas, Joe Allen and Jonjo Shelvey as our best three. All of Liverpool’s central midfielders have struggled for form over the past month or so, and, in a system that needs the midfield to perform in order to be successful, that is a huge concern. Hopefully the return of Lucas will bring balance and solidity to the midfield and allow the other players to play in their natural roles.
Trying to shoehorn Gerrard in to the Liverpool side is a case of square peg/round hole – and it’s not through a lack of effort, either; he has tried to curb his all-action, swashbuckling game, but he’s struggling to do the basics. It’s not so much that he’s trying the killer ball too often, more that he fails to retain possession and accurately play the simple ball, particularly when under pressure. There are still moments when he’ll pull a wonderful pass the open up the opposition defence, but they’re an anomaly, not the norm – when he had his best seasons he had Xabi Alonso to do that, anyway.
More than that, though, he is completely off the pace nowadays. He lacks the legs to constantly press the opposition when they’re in possession, and players are just skipping past him with ease, which is asking for trouble when he plays the deeper role as the defence gets no protection. The most alarming thing is that when he speaks in interviews, he talks as if he’s the player he was for Liverpool under Rafa Benitez. Whether that’s an unconvincing poker face or just a stark lack of self-awareness is open for interpretation, but it doesn’t make his mediocre form over the past few seasons any more palatable.
I presumed that, like Paul Scholes, he’d be able to adapt his game in the latter stages of his career and still perform to a reasonably high level, but I’m no longer convinced that is the case, particularly playing as one of the two deepest midfielders in Rodgers’ system. There is the option of playing him as one of the front three, something Rodgers alluded to on Being: Liverpool, but, whilst it makes sense to get him playing as close to Suarez as possible, again he lacks the pace and mobility to perform the off-the-ball duties, as well as trouble the full back when he has the ball.
For me, if he wants to recapture his form he has to retire from international football. Now he’s only the sixth centurion in England’s history, he’ll no doubt have his sights on Peter Shilton’s record as the most capped English player with 125 caps or, at the very least, David Beckham’s record of 115 - but he’s running the risk of his career ending prematurely. It has been suggested that he wants to captain England at the 2014 World Cup and then retire from international duty, but at this rate it’s hard to see him playing well enough to merit inclusion in the side at he continues to play so poor - although if Roy Hodgson is still in charge then it could happen as he’s been playing well under him for England.
With Lucas back in full training and perhaps returning to first-team action as soon as this week, it should remedy some of Gerrard’s woes. The Brazilian is a guaranteed starter when fit, and he is the only natural holding midfielder in the squad and provides that tenacity and steel that Liverpool’s midfield has lacked. His return should allow Joe Allen to express himself more as he won’t have to primarily focus on playing the holding role, and he should take his place alongside Lucas as the two deepest midfielders. That, in turn, will allow Gerrard to play as the most advanced of the midfield triumvirate where he has proven to be most effective throughout his career.
Perhaps I’m being harsh on him, but it’s hard to not expect the best from Steven Gerrard after has performed exceptionally well for well over a decade, and no doubt he expects the best from himself. It is painful to see the most complete football player I’ve ever had the privilege of watching regularly reduced to the player he has become over the past few seasons, though. His reputation does not deserve to be tarnished after all he has accomplished at Anfield, but reputation is not enough to guarantee him a starting place in the side, nor should it. Let’s hope he won’t accept his slide to mediocrity, and, like when a DJ won’t play Phil Collins, he’ll continue to fight.