By Greg Stobart at Anfield
One day they will have to worry about how on earth to replace him - but on Tuesday night Steven Gerrard once again proved his importance to Liverpool with a superb hat-trick to inspire his side to an emphatic win in the Merseyside derby.
In ruining David Moyes’ 10th anniversary as Everton manager, Gerrard became the first player to score a hat-trick in this fixture since Ian Rush struck four times at Goodison Park in 1982. It came just when Liverpool needed their captain to step up and prevent a descent into mid-table following a season of mixed fortunes.
Gerrard has always had a sense of timing on the big occasion and the 31-year-old, an Everton fan as a boy, said it was “extra special” to score three times against the Toffees to halt a run of three defeats in a row for Kenny Dalglish’s men.
|KING OF THE KOP
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|93'||GOALLL!!! HAT-TRICK FOR GERRARD!! 3-0!! A lot of credit has to go to Suarez, who receives the ball from the captain before taking it on and then cutting it back to the England international inside the box. Gerrard then finishes off another flowing move by slamming into the roof of the net. What a performance!
| PLAYER RATING
|8.5||The Liverpool captain marked his 400th Premier League appearance with a deadly derby hat-trick. Produced a superb finish to stroke the ball home from the edge of the box for the opener, emphatically smashed in the second after the break and capped the victory in added time. Another inspirational performance on a big night at Anfield.|
No other player on the pitch would have scored from the position Gerrard found himself in on 34 minutes. As the ball rolled to him on his weaker left foot, he produced a perfectly placed chip over the goalkeeper and the defenders to break the deadlock in a tense, frenetic encounter.
Precision, vision and technique. It was something he showed once again in the second-half as he doubled the advantage, slamming the ball high past Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard from 12 yards.
In added time he sealed his place in the record books by scoring the first Merseyside derby hat-trick in the Premier League era. After Luis Suarez twisted and turned in the Everton penalty area, Gerrard was left with the simple task of stroking the ball into an unguarded net.
While Liverpool dominated their previous home match against Arsenal, they lacked the cutting edge to score the goals their play deserved and were sucker-punched by Robin van Persie’s late winner.
The difference? No Gerrard. That Liverpool have been toothless in front of goal this season and have drawn eight league games at Anfield owes much to Gerrard’s absence through injury.
As wonderful as Suarez is off the ball, he lacks a clinical touch in front of goal and has scored just six times in the Premier League this term, and only twice since the Patrice Evra racism row erupted in October.
There have been suggestions that Gerrard has been on the decline in the last couple of seasons, largely as a consequence of ankle and groin injuries. When he has played, he has sometimes looked a little off the pace, lacking his usual drive in central midfield.
But against Everton he showed how much he still has to offer, driving Liverpool to a victory with a performance that echoed his heroics in the Champions League final in 2005 and the FA Cup final in 2006.
And Liverpool need him at the moment. Only Gerrard and Suarez have the attacking spark needed if the Reds are going to re-establish themselves in English football’s elite.
The likes of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam have been signed as part of the club’s rebuilding work but are all miles off the benchmark set by Gerrard on Tuesday night.
The League Cup triumph this season can be seen as a sign of progress at the club but this campaign has warned the Reds that this is a slow process, that further work is needed in the summer transfer window before a push for a top four finish.
If Liverpool are going to make the transition back into the Champions League places and, looking further ahead, a title push, then they will need their totemic leader - their club legend - to guide them through.
Follow Greg Stobart on