Being a club legend and possibly one of its greatest ever player is not an easy task. There is always pressure to perform and the expectation of incessant loyalty. Steven Gerrard has bested this and carried Liverpool on his shoulders for the last 6 years. Despite being in the twilight of his career, Gerrard managed to play in every single game last season which earned him a place in the Premier League Team of the Season. Despite the infamous slip, Gerrard was one of Liverpool’s most consistent players last season. His name is present in both assists and goals chart for the 2014 calendar year. Despite all this Gerrard has come under severe criticism from fans and pundits alike for some below par performances that has contributed to Liverpool’s poor start to the season.
For a player whose game is based on pace, power and technique, age is one of the biggest issues. When such a player reaches his mid-30s there is a natural down slope in his attributes. As a result of this, Rodgers readjusted the midfield and switched Gerrard to the base of the midfield instead of playing him at the tip of the midfield as he did during the Rafa Benitez years. But in order to play in such a position the player must be tactically aware and must be excellent at retaining possession. The regista role is an important position for a team that aspires to play a high pressing passing game. One of the best registas the world has seen is Pirlo and Xabi Alonso. Both are technically superb, patient and tactically aware. Also more importantly they have mobile strikers and some hard working midfielders in front of them.
In the case of Pirlo, he has Pogba and Vidal in front of him, both of who are excellent, hardworking and high pressing midfielders. Juventus also has mobile strikers in the form of Giovinco and Tevez. As a result of this Pirlo is able to stretch the opposition defence deep into their half with his killer passes. Similarly in Bayern, Alonso has a very mobile set of players in front of him such as Muller, Ribery, Robben and Lewandowski, who press deep in the opposition half and force mistakes from the opposition. This was clearly evident in the match against Roma where they battered them by 7 goals. Alonso also has an excellent Schweinsteiger next to him who anchors the Bayern midfield and protects the defence. From the Pirlo and Alonso examples we can clearly understand that there are a number of problems with Gerrard playing in the regista role.
Firstly, the current Liverpool set up is the complete anti-thesis of what they were last season. With Suarez, Sterling and Sturridge, Liverpool had one of the most potent and mobile set of forwards. They constantly interchanged positions and played a number of one twos to trick the opposition. Sturridge’s clever movement enabled him to drop behind a high defence line and Suarez’s trickery easily fooled a deep defence line, as a result of which the managers were in a constant dilemma on how to shape up against Liverpool. Gerrard took maximum advantage of this and played the killer passes to open up the opposition defence. Luis Suarez struck fear in the heart of the opposition defenders as a result he was targeted by them but now the Premier League managers have realised that in his absence Gerrard must be targeted if they are to stop Liverpool.
As a result of this, Gerrard has been tightly marked in every game and opposition midfielders completely remove Gerrard from the game. This has resulted in the team being unable to carry the ball into opposition half and unable to thwart opposition attacks. Also the presence of Balotelli and Lambert upfront has made the entire Liverpool attack static in nature. The lack of a mobile attack has clearly resulted in Rodgers being unable to emulate the tactics he used last season which has in turn affected Gerrard. Secondly, tactical awareness and patience are not some of Gerrard’s best aspects. He has been caught out of position umpteen times by the opposition and he prefers playing Hollywood passes to the calm passing game expected of him. Though Suarez and Sturridge’s goals covered up these aspects of Gerrard’s game it has been ripped open this season. Thus playing Gerrard in the regista role maximises his weakness and minimises his strengths in the current Liverpool set up.
Over the last few matches, Rodgers has realized his folly and moved Gerrard into the attacking midfield role where he has the freedom to move around and use his best attributes. This has been one of the reasons why Liverpool has stopped their slump and won back to back matches over the last 10 days. But the problem with this tactical switch is that Gerrard lacks the legs to perform consistently in this position consistently. Modern football has evolved a lot and even a number 10 is expected to track back and defend but Gerrard lacks the pace to perform in this role consistently. Thus, Liverpool must utilise Gerrard as a secret weapon as Carragher wrote in an article few days back. Like Lampard at Manchester City, Gerrard must be brought on during crucial times and must be played in crucial matches. Both Rodgers and Gerrard need to be selective about the matches he is played in if he is to make a difference. Liverpool has a capable midfield which can cover for the absence of Gerrard but Gerrard is much more than a player at Liverpool. He is an icon and losing an icon will be a massive blow to the club and its supporters.
With his contract ending in another 6 months, Gerrard has to make a decision on whether to stay at Liverpool or look for a move abroad in order to test himself in other leagues. But the important fact Gerrard must consider is that in none of the top teams he will be able to secure a starting berth at the age of 34 in the attacking midfielder position. Thus, he will have to be content with a role from the bench which is one of the reason he is reluctant to sign the Liverpool contract. Gerrard simply can’t accept his waning role in the team which he carried on his shoulders over the last 16 years. Leaving Liverpool will be heartbreak for the Kop as well as Gerrard but when this action doesn’t really achieve what he wants it is always better to stay put and continue at the club. Rodgers has already confirmed that he would love to have Gerrard in the coaching team as they enjoy an excellent relationship. Thus, most Liverpool fans would want Gerrard to remain at the club as a player-coach and eventually take up the seat of Liverpool manager from Rodgers one day but whether if that will happen or not is question for another day.