Liverpool are most certainly a side in transition under new manager Brendan Rodgers, but aside from the disappointing start to the new league season, there have been seeds of hope sown by the performances of several youngsters in the side with Jonjo Shelvey in particular displaying maturity well beyond his years with performances reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard.
The 20-year-old midfielder already boasts a wealth of experience considering his age, having featured in exactly 100 first-team games at club level for Charlton, Blackpool (on loan) and Liverpool in his fledgling career so far. While his sending off against Manchester United is still a divisive topic among both sets of supporters, there’s no denying that the the player is certainly a huge talent.
This rashness of thought is common in young players and he will inevitably still make mistakes, with his dismissal against the club’s bitter rivals something of a doosie, but Gerrard was equally as guilty of similar sorts of challenges early on in his career and he eventually matured into a fantastic, world-class player.
Shelvey has quickly developed into a starting regular under Rodgers and his performances have seen Gerrard switch to a deeper-lying role as a result, which has coincided with a return to form for the skipper, who had looked lost at the tip of the midfield triumvirate at the start of the season.
To do the role justice, you need to not only have sound positional and tactical awareness to be able to flit between the dual demands that the role requires – supporting the lone striker and helping the side dominate possession – in the managers system, you have to be able to keep your composure and combine both power and precision.
The club’s pursuit of both Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson this summer suggested that Rodgers had reservations about Gerrard’s effectiveness in the role and whether he had the legs for it anymore, which over short spells he may well do, but he can struggle to influence the game over long period, but Shelvey has excelled there, just as he did against Manchester City behind Gerrard when he came on to replace the desperately unlucky Lucas Leiva, who went off with injury just five minutes into the game.
It was his performance coming off the bench against Young Boys in the away Europa League tie that really caught the attention, though and it was not only his confidence, or as Rodgers will insist on calling it in his new managerial jargon ‘game arrogance’, but the way he seemed like the best player on the pitch just moments after he took to the pitch.
Rodgers praised the midfielder after the game stating: “He has been outstanding. He is still only 20 years of age and is developing and growing all the time and you saw his confidence when he came on. His (first) goal, we worked it very well and he did what he can do very well and I think he will be a big player for Liverpool.”
He’s one of those rare players that just looks like he knows what he’s doing; he’s intelligent with his movement both on and off the ball and while his passing can be wayward at times (see the performance against Hearts at home), that’s been the exception rather than the norm at the moment and he deserves a place in the side on merit at the moment.
The real test, though, will be how he copes when the side is at full strength. Lucas will certainly return to the starting eleven when he recovers from his spell on the sidelines and Joe Allen is practically undroppabale simply because his metronomic passing is key to the teams style, which could see Gerrard pushed further forward again, which would mean Shelvey being dropped to the bench. The form of Nuri Sahin and Jordan Henderson, while consigned largely to cup games at the moment, is also worth of consideration.
Replacing a club legend is an impossible task in many fans eyes as you’re often held to the same standard, but the terraces are likely to be far more lenient if the player in question boasts the work-rate and ability of Shelvey, particularly given his age. He’s not shown quite the same consistency that Gerrard displayed during his peak years yet, nor the game-changing ability to drag the side by the scruff of its neck, but positionally and the way that he looks to drive forward from midfield with the ball, always looking to play the forward pass has shades of Gerrard in it and at the moment, he is the unquestionable heir apparent.
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