When Liverpool take on Southampton on Sunday, a major point of concern and deliberation for manager Brendan Rodgers will be the form of Steven Gerrard.
The Reds captain has had a mixed season so far; undoubtedly one of Liverpool’s best technical players and boasting impressive passing stats, Gerrard has, however, struggled to implement Rodgers’ pressing style and scored just one league goal this year.
After disappointing in recent weeks, should Rodgers continue to start the Anfield legend or sacrifice him for the good of the team? Goal.com takes a look at both side of the argument.
|NO - HE SHOULD BE DROPPED
By Ewan Roberts
For so long Steven Gerrard has been Liverpool’s back-achingly inspirational talisman, from *that* goal in the FA Cup final to his Champions League-winning performance in Istanbul, but the appointment of Brendan Rodgers and a shift in style has reduced the local-lad-turned-Kop-icon’s impact and importance to the point that he no longer justifies a place in the starting XI.
Rodgers has deployed Gerrard in a deeper, more withdrawn role this season and asked him to play a much calmer and measured possession-heavy style. His frenzied forward drives and committed bursts from midfield have been curtailed, and his goal threat largely extinguished.
Supporters will point to Gerrard’s improving possession stats as a sign of his adaptation to the new role, but he has essentially taken on the job Leon Britton performed for Rodgers’ Swansea last season, where the Swans’ midfielder sat alongside Joe Allen and kept possession ticking over. Britton posted the highest pass success rate in the league last year (93.4% - on par with the likes of Xavi), leaving Gerrard’s 85.6% success rate looking rather meagre in comparison.
Rodgers also stresses the importance of aggressive pressing, and the 32-year-old has struggled to produce the high-intensity closing down that is required of him. Once tireless and energetic, Gerrard has, quite naturally, looked slower and tamer this season, displaying lethargy off the ball and a sluggishness when tracking back, while his positioning is increasingly suspect.
Gerrard’s output has declined considerably too. In his benchmark season of 2008/09, often playing behind Fernando Torres, he scored every 1.94 league games, this year he has scored once in 14 matches. He has averaged 1.9 fewer shots per game with poorer accuracy too.
However, his dwindling goal tally is largely a symptom of Rodgers’ system, and while Gerrard does not suit Rodgers’ set-up, the reverse is equally true. Rodgers has shackled the Liverpool captain, fielding him much deeper, curbing his adventurous surges, and advocating safe short passing over low-success-big-pay-off "Hollywood" passes.
Either Rodgers uncages Gerrard, granting him a freer role, or he accepts that Nuri Sahin, Jordan Henderson and the soon-to-return Lucas are all better suited to the role.
Rodgers' ideology is reducing the Reds’ dependence on Gerrard, but there is a sense that he stills himself as Liverpool’s Great Deliverer, even if his manager and team-mates no longer do. Cut him and he bleeds red. But then so does everyone, and Gerrard is looking more and more human with every match he plays.
|YES - HE SHOULD STILL START
By Jamie Dunn
Write Steven Gerrard off at your peril.
The Anfield talisman – who has played over 600 games for Liverpool and scored more than 150 goals – may have only netted once so far this season in the Premier League and chalked up just two assists.
But it is not quite time for No.8 to come in just yet.
|STEVEN GERRARD FACTFILE
|HONOURS||FA Cup (2), League Cup (3), Champions League, Uefa Cup, Super Cup, Comm. Shield (2)|
Or can you? After all, the England midfielder boasts an 86% pass completion rate in 14 games this season, just 5% lower than Joe Allen, who has made more interceptions than Gerrard but plays fewer long – and arguably riskier – balls.
Gerrard also boasts a greater number of chances created and most recently in the defeat against Tottenham was denied a goal only by a clearance on the line from Aaron Lennon, which eventually cannoned into the net off the face of Gareth Bale.
Of course, playing long balls is probably not what Rodgers wants the Anfield legend doing, but the introduction of a new system need not be the end of Gerrard as a regular fixture in the Liverpool starting XI. Rather, it could be the reinvention of a wonderfully-talented veteran.
The imminent return of Lucas, who will be in the first-team squad for the visit of Southampton on Saturday, will arguably free up the 32-year-old, among others, from his deeper role and therefore immediate defensive responsibility.
But the Brazilian’s recovery from injury may also encourage Rodgers to form a midfield three of Lucas, Allen and Nuri Sahin, or the impressive Suso, pushing his captain into the front three.
And while England fans have probably recoiled at the prospect of Gerrard playing off of one of the flanks, deploying the midfielder in such a position would not mean parking him on the touchline and expecting him to bomb up and down the wing all game.
Gerrard could instead operate as support for Luis Suarez off the left-hand side, with Raheem Sterling on the right, allowing Rodgers to dispense of Jose Enrique as an emergency wide forward.
Rodgers has publicly backed his captain. Expect the Anfield boss to continue to do so by naming Gerrard in his starting XI for weeks to come.
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