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Friday, October 3, 2014

The Steven Gerrard Conundrum: What Rodgers Should Do With the Captain

Hello you Liverpool fan, can we talk? As in just have a little chit-chat about err… someone? Not just anyone, but a football player, not your normal Sunday league footballer but a Liverpool player, a club legend? Ok let me stop all the ambiguity, grab a drink, lean back on your seat, and let’s have a discussion about Steven Gerrard. Let me go first right?

Steven Gerrard will forever be remembered as a Liverpool icon, the one-club legend who time and again put his foot on the right gear when needed and dragged men around him to safety like no other. His position in the Liverpool folklore is secure. He will be revered and idolized, his influence in the dressing room will be missed, kids will be named after him and his No. 8 jersey will, even if retired, be fan’s favorite for many generations to come. Can I continue?

Having said that, it’s about time the Liverpool nation, the Koop and more so Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers who all adore and love Gerrard accepted the fact that he can no longer be who he has been for the club for the past 16 odd years. He is no longer that sprint chicken who will burst with pace before letting fly a thunderous 30-yard shot into the back of the net. He is no longer that full-bloodied midfielder who will track his marker before dispossessing him with a crunching tackle, just in time. He is the captain alright, the leader of men, the quintessential embodiment of Liverpool Football Club and the reference point to that rare quality in modern football; club loyalty.

However, the Whiston-born midfielder seems to be losing it (and am being kind because many pundits are saying he has lost it). Taking a look at the beginning of this season, Gerrard has been part of the problem for the Reds who have lost three of their opening six league games. Rodgers has carried on with the scheme of last season where Captain Fantastic was deployed in the deep lying midfield position to great effect.

Gerrard contributed 13 goals and provided the same number of assists as Liverpool scored goals for fun in what was one of the fiercest attacking frontlines in Europe, led by the dynamic duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, otherwise referred to as ‘The SAS’. Gerrard’s 13 assists was the highest of any player in the league and his 2,220 passes at an accuracy of 86% was only second to Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. The Liverpool No. 8 also won 69 tackles, made 48 interceptions and completed 91 clearances in a season that saw him deservedly named in the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) Team of the Year.

Rodgers was quick to laud his captain saying, "We mustn't forget that he's arguably the best in European football in a controlling role at this moment in time. There's not many players who can do what he can do - be one of the best attacking midfield players in Europe and then switch to be arguably the best controlling player.”

While the Ulsterman’s description of the 34-year-old might have been a wee bit generous, Gerrard for the umpteenth time proved himself as an indispensable member of the Liverpool squad who came so close to winning their maiden Premier League title, a prize that no one would have enjoyed more than Gerrard himself.

However, that’s as far as the good part of the script went. The Gerrard of this season has been a shadow of that of the season past. His legs are tired, his body language is at its all-time low and the captain’s head seems to be dropping. In the defeats to Aston Villa and West Ham this season, Gerrard has been found wanting. Opposition managers ala Villa’s Paul Lambert and West Ham’s Sam Allardyce exposed his weakness by deploying Gabriel Agbonlahor and Steward Downing respectively to nullify the threat that Gerrard poses. They stuck to him, covered every blade of grass with him, followed and put him under pressure totally invalidating his influence in the proceedings.

It was only against Everton where Rodgers tinkered with the shape of the team by slotting Jordan Henderson alongside Gerrard that latter showed his influence which was capped by a fine free kick goal that served to answer his critics. But even in that game, the statistics suggested his authority in the game was minimal with Javier Manquillo the only Liverpool player who clocked 90 minutes having touched the ball less than Gerrard.

The midweek Champions League clash away to Basel saw Gerrard surrender possession countless times and even his set-piece delivery wasn’t at its customary high standards. The critics who had just started biting their humble pie resurfaced.

Many have suggested that Rodgers should push Gerrard a bit further up like Manchester City have done with Frank Lampard who has 4 goals in his name in 5 appearances for the Citizens. Like Gerrard, Lampard doesn’t have the feet or mobility to go the distance on the pitch which has seen Manuel Pellegrini slot in the attacking third where he doesn’t have to do so much running.

Should Rodgers try and adopt Gerrard in the same manner City have with Lampard and will Captain Fantastic flourish in that position and if not, will the manager be brave enough to drop him to the bench?  And should Liverpool fans finally start accepting the very fact that the heartbeat of the team for over a decade should bow and take his place in the supporting cast at the Anfield theater room and beyond?

It’s your turn to talk now because for the first time, Gerrard seems like a man who shouldn't be a guaranteed starter at Liverpool.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!