What to do with Steven Gerrard?

The Liverpool skipper was one of the standout performers for Roy Hodgson’s spirited but ultimately limited England side at Euro 2012, in a deeper, more disciplined role. It’s therefore interesting to have a look to try and see what role Gerrard will play for his club side next season, particularly under a new manager in Brendan Rodgers, after traditionally occupying a more attacking and influential role further forward at Anfield.

Former Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers may still be licking his wounds at the snub received by transfer target and former charge Gylfi Sigurdsson this week, as the Icelandic midfielder chose Tottenham instead, but his pursuit (let’s not call it a saga, please) of the midfielder does indicate an intent to strengthen the club’s options further forward, with Sigurdsson often found at the tip of a triumvarite.

At Euro 2012, Gerrard finished with three assists in England’s four games and despite a season dogged by injury, performed admirably considering how little playing time he’d seen in an injury-hit campaign. At Liverpool last season, the side looked undeniably brighter whenever he played and the shoots of a good understanding between him and Luis Suarez are still there for all to see. Gerrard still managed to finish the season with nine goals in 25 appearances, so he’s still offers an excellent attacking threat.

Lest we forget too, that Gerrard initially broke into both the England and Liverpool sides as a positionally disciplined but energetic holding man, only really moving further forward after Rafa Benitez took over the club. His versatility is his greatest strength – his best three seasons at club level (2000-1, 2005-6 and 2008-9) – have all come in three different roles (holding man, right midfielder and second striker).

His range of passing, when you take out the ridiculous Hollywood passes that he’s prone to, is decent if unspectacular and if he did play deeper alongside the returning Lucas, he’d certainly be a step up on either Charlie Adam or Jay Spearing as a partner for the integral Brazilian who was hugely missed last season.

Now for the negatives – Gerrard only really plays to the best of his ability when he knows he can trust his team-mates around him, otherwise, he can be a nightmare positionally, roaming wherever he so pleases. He’s always fancied himself as a deep-lying playmaker, spreading the ball out wide and starting attacks, but he’s never quite had the range that Xabi Alonso had and you’re also always left with the feeling that whenever you see him in his own half that he’s a wasted threat there.

The amount of times I’ve seen him jog back twenty yards, collect a two-yard pass from a clearly inferior (in his mind anyway) team-mate, then attempt a 30-yard ball out to the wing is off the charts. When Liverpool had Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano and to an extent Lucas playing every week behind him, Gerrard rarely ever did this, as he trusted those behind him to do their job properly, leaving him to focus on his. It’s a somewhat arrogant attitude to have, but it’s through no lack of trying at least, and he clearly cares about the club’s cause.

The return of Alberto Aquilani is promising, and he’s been criminally underused by the club since they bought him. In the last two seasons, after fully recovering from the broken ankle he suffered while at Roma, he’s featured 59 times in two separate loan spells at firstly Juventus and then AC Milan. He’s a player of continental pedigree and has the ability to pick a pass in a crowded area and he deserves a chance, while Joe Cole also returns from a loan spell in France at Lille with a point to prove.

Personally, while many players are better served as they enter the twilight of their careers by being pushed back to compensate for their increasing lack of pace, I’d like to see Gerrard pushed further forward. He’s by a country mile the best one-on-one finisher at the club and one of the best exponents of this dying art left in the top flight – I simply can’t remember the last time he was played in, with just the goalkeeper to beat, and he didn’t leave the net bulging.

New boss Brendan Rodgers had a preference for a possession-based 4-3-3 formation during his time at Swansea, which requires two midfielders to manipulate the ball in the middle, while the other puts pressure on the opposition slightly ahead of them, while also acting as a catalyst for instigating and finishing off attacks – it’s a dual role and requires discipline but also a great engine and while Gerrard obviously still has the former, the latter is fading.

It remains to be seen whether Aquilani will be given a proper run in the first-team and a fair crack of thw whip this time around, but he clearly fits in with the ‘philosophy’ of Rodgers style of play. Lucas faces a race against time to be fully fit in time for the beginning of the new season, while Adam has also had a prolonged spell on the sidelines. The burden may fall onto Gerrard, with the skipper likely to be pressed into action in a deeper, more reserved role than we have become accustomed to seeing him in for his club these past few years, but as he proved for England this summer, there’s life in the old dog yet.

Where do you think Gerrard should play for Liverpool next season? At the tip of a midfield three or in a deeper, more defensive role like he performed for England at the Euros this summer?

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1

 


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