Steven Gerrard claimed no hard feelings when he was unceremoniously dropped to the bench for Liverpool’s clash with Stoke, on what would have been the 16th anniversary of his debut.
— Yoni (@yonnipratama) November 29, 2014
With a contract offer supposedly on the table for the captain, Brendan Rodgers has been quick to claim that a need for rotation, not form, was behind Gerrard’s demotion. At nearly 35 years of age, the captain deserves a break, right?
Gerrard’s uncanny knack for picking Liverpool up by the scruff of its neck and dragging its limp, yielding body towards victory is well-documented and probably works to his disadvantage these days.
The bursts of energy that saw him guide Liverpool to Champions League and FA Cup glory haven’t shown their face in years, apart from glimpses in the occasional trip to Old Trafford or Goodison. Liverpool have been left with a captain who doesn’t do all of the heavy lifting any more.
In fact, it’s uncertain whether he’s doing much lifting at all, preferring to make his presence felt from the penalty spot or the corner flag.
Where he once marauded in the space between the midfield and a single striker, in Rodgers’ Liverpool Gerrard occupies the role of holding midfielder, I always thought that he was wasted there, but against my reckoning he at least appeared to do a decent job of it last season.
His position at the base of a diamond in Rodgers’ preferred formation opened the field for his younger midfield cohorts, like Jordan Henderson (above), who found his feet outside of his captain’s long shadow.
Gerrard’s contribution to Liverpool’s impressive scoring record was significant from his deeper position, but not because of it. His tally of 13 goals and 13 assists in 2013/14 betrays an attacking instinct, but not so much when you realise 11of his 13 assists came from set pieces, and 10 of his goals were penalties.
This season, Liverpool’s attack has been non-existent and its back line somehow leakier than ever. Gerrard, again taking up the mantle of midfield enforcer, has made fewer tackles and fewer interceptions per game than he did last season. Perhaps you could argue that Gerrard has been supporting Liverpool’s impotent forward line more than before.
He is after all making more key passes (and is seventh in the league in terms of that particular stat) this season.
But his two goals have both been from set pieces and his single assist is his only direct contribution to a Liverpool goal in open play.
Granted, it’s not all his fault. The captain remains an attacking threat, so much so in fact that a noticeable pattern has emerged which has seen him closely marked by opposition players, nullifying the danger of his distribution. This leaves him chasing down possession, but finding himself unable to make good of it. No wonder he’s lost his appetite for tackling.
Lucas Leiva stepped into Gerrard’s anchoring shoes against Stoke and impressed overall. He made five tackles (succeeding in two), four clearances and two interceptions. It was Liverpool’s first clean sheet since drawing against Hull in late October, and only their second of the season so far.
Lucas has made just four appearances this season and Liverpool have won all but one of those games. That makes for a win percentage of 75%. Liverpool’s win percentage in all 13 fixtures this season is a lowly 38% and Gerrard has appeared in every one.
When Gerrard came on as a substitute for Lucas, Liverpool were failing to find the back of the net. He gave a fresh impetus to the side, leading to the melee in which Glen Johnson sealed an unlikely winner. Perhaps he does have a part to play, then, as an impact sub, as so many commentators have pointed out.
The question is, can a man like Gerrard, so accustomed to carrying the heavy weight of Liverpool’s incredible incompetency over the last 16 years, settle for a bit part?
Why do a cameo in a slapstick comedy, when another director might make you the lead man in an Oscar-winner? Can Liverpool afford to risk losing those odd breathtaking displays of leadership, however infrequent they may be?
It’s something the man himself will no doubt be considering, especially if he is left out of the side tonight to face Leicester.