Liverpool: Stop Worrying About Gerrard & Appreciate Him While We Can
Liverpool’s 4-0 dismantling of neighbours Everton came as something of a shock to both sets of supporters. Everton fans, buoyed by their side’s refreshingly positive approach under Roberto Martinez, hoped they could finally come to Anfield and win; Liverpool fans, concerned by their side’s ever-growing injury list, could have been forgiven for casting nervous glances over Stanley Park with The Blues only a point behind them in the table. But Brendan Rodgers’ side, as they have often done this season, allayed any potential fears with an emphatic performance, and like he has done in countless Merseyside derbies in the past, Liverpool’s captain, Steven Gerrard, led by example.
Gerrard was back to his imperious best against Everton, justifying Rodgers’ brave decision to not only stick with the same side that struggled against Aston Villa in Liverpool’s last home game, but to persist with Gerrard in the deeper holding role – even if there were no real alternatives with both Lucas and Joe Allen out injured. It was only a fortnight ago that Gerrard’s flaws were so easily exposed by the tenacity and, quite frankly, superior fitness of Villa’s midfield – not even Jordan Henderson and his Duracell-powered motor could even the odds – but his protection of the back four and use of the ball against Everton were superb.
Liverpool changed their system to a more counter-attacking setup, which certainly helped Gerrard as there was less space to cover in front of the back four than was the case against Villa, but it was still a huge test for the captain. He was up against a talented midfield three, including the impressive Ross Barkley, the heir apparent to Gerrard’s mantle as the best midfielder on Merseyside, and he passed with flying colours. This was Darth Vader leaving Luke Skywalker bruised and battered at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, presumably without the dramatic declaration of fatherhood; after all, as Everton fans never tire of telling Gerrard, the baby is not his.
Such is the fickle nature of football that after the Villa game I had absolutely no idea how Gerrard was going to fit in to the side in the long-term, whereas now I feel daft for ever having doubted him. That’s not to say I don’t still have concerns, the main one being whether he can be consistently successful once Liverpool revert to their usual formation and style of play; his talent is not, and has never been the issue, it’s whether he still has the physical capability to play week in, week out at a high level. Rightly or wrongly, he is held to a higher standard than anyone else at Liverpool because of his previous achievements.
Steven Gerrard is not, and will never be, the player he was five years ago at the zenith of his career. Part of what made him so special – well, apart from being the complete midfielder - was that he was as physically imposing as he was technically gifted; the perfect blend of power, precision and panache. Whilst the history of hamstring and groin injuries may be taking their toll on him now in the autumn of his career, he still has a lot to offer, and if Liverpool can find the right balance in midfield around him, it would bode well heading in to home games against the other current members of the top four.
Such is the fickle nature of football that after the Villa game I had absolutely no idea how Gerrard was going to fit in to the side in the long-term, whereas now I feel daft for ever having doubted him.
One thing that is abundantly clear, and has been for a long time, is that Gerrard and Lucas do not work as a pairing, and even in a midfield three their lack of mobility places a lot of pressure on the other player to do the leg work without the ball. Coutinho flourished in an advanced central role – he has always looked more comfortable playing through the middle - but if Joe Allen can stay fit and put in the sort of performances he did in December along with Jordan Henderson, with Gerrard in place of Lucas, that may be the most effective triumvirate for Rodgers, with the personnel changing depending on the opposition.
Unfortunately, there are currently a lot of questions surrounding not only the present but also the future, and there no clear answers. What if Gerrard struggles playing a deeper role? With his contract expiring next summer, and as he’s club captain and also the second highest-paid player, would the owners extend his contract on his current wage? Would he be willing to take a pay cut? What if Liverpool finish in the top four, but Gerrard doesn’t retire from international football after the World Cup? Those are all questions that will eventually be answered in time, but there is one question on every Liverpool fan’s lips: how do you replace Steven Gerrard?
The simple answer is that you don’t; he is simply irreplaceable. Steven Gerrard is a once in a generation player, he is arguably the greatest player to ever play for Liverpool and, just like Jamie Carragher, who retired last summer, there are no words that can do his contribution to Liverpool as a club and city justice. He certainly won’t be writing his swan song just yet, but it’s important to remember that he won’t be around forever, so just enjoy him whilst he’s still here rather than worrying what the future holds. Getting the chance to experience Champions League football again at Anfield next season would be a decent start.