Is Steven Gerrard a square peg in a round hole at Liverpool now?
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard delivered another decent performance for England mid-week against Ukraine, the late red card aside, with the contrast with his current club performances growing starker by the week. At times under Brendan Rodgers so far, he’s resembled a square peg in a round hole, but most importantly, can he adjust to the new system in place at Anfield?
Upon taking over the club from the sacked Kenny Dalglish in the summer, Rodgers had this to say on Gerrard, indicating a key role in the process: “I believe your senior players are vital and those particular two are the life and soul of this football club. They have been very important members of this group here for a number of years. I’m looking forward to working with everyone and having close relations with my captain and vice-captain.”
Nevertheless, Gerrard completed just 80 per cent of his passes in the team’s first game of the season in the 3-0 defeat away at West Brom, just 77 per cent against Manchester City, completing only 55 of his 71 attempted pass and it got even worse against Arsenal with just 69 per cent finding a team-mate.
Across his first three games in a red shirt so far in the league, Joe Allen has recorded a 94.7 per cent pass completion rate, while even Nuri Sahin on debut against Arsenal finished with 91 per cent despite looking a bit off the pace and rusty. It’s clear that Gerrard is at odds with the possession-based football that Rodgers is trying to implement at Anfield this term.
At the moment, the 32-year-old skipper is being asked to perform a role at the tip of a midfield three and to help support Luis Suarez higher up the pitch, but his wayward passing has contributed to not only his own form dropping off but the Uruguayan’s, as he continues to grapple with an almost chronic lack of service and support.
It’s not that Gerrard is unfamiliar with playing the role of supporting the lone front man, as he showed in tandem with Fernando Torres back in 2008-9 to the tune of a career-best 16 league goals as they were narrowly tipped to the title by just four points, courtesy of a couple of Federico Macheda shinners.
However, the demands of each role are clearly different and the starting position under Rodgers is about 10-15 yards further back; the result has seen Gerrard lost at sea between both lines and struggling to have an impact on the game. When he has done, though, it’s been a negative one, with his first-time pass on the break against Arsenal intercepted going on to lead to Lukas Podolski’s breakaway goal, providing a stern test for Rodgers’ patience and highlighting how at sea he is with his current role.
It’s not, as you may initially assume, that he’s been trying to play too many Hollywood passes, a criticism often aimed at Gerrard, or unrealistic through balls; Gerrard has lost that crucial yard of pace that set him apart from his peers in the middle of the park now and he’s taken on an altogether more reserved role for England to great success in recent times, with a starting position a lot deeper than than he is currently playing for his club, so he still has the ability to play deeper, even if it’s a bit of a waste.
He isn’t incapable of staying disciplined or playing a limited style of play, after all, he first broke through into the starting eleven under Gerard Houllier as an energetic holding man alongside Dietmar Hamann, but still, something clearly isn’t quite clicking at the moment.
It’s usually assumed that the older a player gets, the further back down the pitch he is pushed to compensate for his ever-decreasing lack of pace, but it would be interesting to see Gerrard as one of the front three at some point in the future, perhaps in place of Fabio Borini, with Suarez moved out wide and given free licence to roam.
Suarez usually struggles whenever he’s given a fixed position and he’s been at his best for both club and country in the past as part of a fluid two or three-man attack. His unpredictable nature isn’t exactly ideally suited to Rodgers methodical tactical plans, but he provides a spark when he’s on the ball, even if he has been hamstrung by his own poor first touch on a number of occasions already this season.
The club’s pursuit of firstly Gylfi Sigurdsson and then Clint Dempsey this summer should indicate that Rodgers has always had reservations about Gerrard’s ability to get up and down the pitch and perform the dual demands that the role requires, even if he still clearly has something to offer the side.
It’s worth remembering that despite an injury-disturbed campaign last term, he still struck five times in the league and set up a further six goals, which when you put into context the team’s struggles, is a very reasonable return by anyones standards and it feels a bit as if he’s been shackled by the tactical demands of the new system; like a coil waiting to unwind at a moment’s notice, clearly at odds with the swiss precision Rodgers is aiming for – there’s one for those of you out there that have a penchant for watch-based metaphors.
With Joe Allen excellent since coming to the club, Lucas Leiva assured of a starting spot upon his return from injury and Nuri Sahin something of a transfer coup after signing from Real Madrid on a season-long loan deal, the side seem fairly well-stocked when it comes to players who occupy that space just in front of the back four.
It would be sad to see Gerrard retain his starting place in the side simply on status alone, with his form continuing to tail off. His positional future needs to be addressed sooner rather than later as it’s a major reason why the side are currently failing to provide any sort of goal threat; whether that means moving him forwards or backwards remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Gerrard can’t stay where is right now, otherwise moves will continue to flounder and gaps behind him cruelly exposed.
You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1
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