Shikharr Chandra | Premier League
Saturday's win over West Ham United saw another outstanding performance by Luis Suarez and a vital win for Liverpool as they continue their quest to feature in the Champions League once again. The win also saw Steven Gerrard pull his hamstring midway into the second half and was replaced by Lucas Leiva. Further tests confirmed that the Liverpool captain will miss around six weeks of football that will include trips to White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool's form and their progress under Brendan Rodgers this season has been impressive. From being considered by many as outside favorites to reach the top four, they are certainly making a very good case of their title credentials as they find themselves five points behind league leaders Arsenal.
But amidst all that, Gerrard's injury does come as a big blow for Liverpool and their quest to finish in the top four places. Even though Rodgers sounds confident that his side can cope without the influential midfielder during the busy winter period, the question still remains whether the Reds have adequate cover for their 33-year old captain.
Liverpool went into the season with four central midfielders - Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen. What has been worth noting is that even at the age of 33, Steven Gerrard is still the most influential among the lot. Jordan Henderson's rise this season has been lauded but even he is struggling with injury. The Merseysiders' are being stretched and their lack of depth in the department is being exposed.
Gerrard without doubt has been one of the most influential players for Liverpool this season. He ranks third in the club's goal scoring charts behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. The Englishman has made 33 key passes this season more than anyone else in the league, he has six assists and a passing percentage of 87. It's safe to say he's been the most creative player for the club this season.
With Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard both out for the coming few weeks, Liverpool's goal threat will be reduced. Granted, they have the league's most prolific goal scorer but even Luis Suarez will need someone to put in those clever passes for him and young Philippe Coutinho will now have to shoulder that responsibity.
Although Rodgers will hope Allen can fill in for Gerrard given that the Welshman has been in pretty good form of late, he is no Steven Gerrard. Allen averages 0.3 key passes per game compared to Gerrard's 2.7 in the Premier League.
The England captain is also known for his shooting ability from outside the box, something Allen is not well-versed in. Although one might argue that the former Swansea midfielder has made fewer appearances than Gerrard, Allen's slow start to the season and his failure to challenge either Jordan Henderson or the Liverpool skipper regularly has been the reason for his absence from the side.
Gerrard offers penetration from central midfield. His ability to play pin-point passes into the striker's feet or behind the defense acts as a boon to every striker playing ahead of him, something Suarez has relished.
There is no doubting the abilities of Allen but Rodgers needs top players if he wants to take Liverpool to the Champions League. When Jonjo Shelvey left at the start of the season, it was expected that Rodgers would go into the market to sign a midfielder and although he got Luis Alberto to fill in that role, Liverpool still lack the quality in that area the other big sides can boast.
Rodgers at the moment lacks both quality and quantity in the midfield department, something his opposite number Andre Villas-Boas won't when the two sides meet on Sunday. The Portuguese has a wealth of options to choose from. The form of Paulinho has been impressive, Etienne Capoue has had considerably less chances in the league but has done well in the Europa League and not to forget Moussa Dembele and Sandro who have been the anchormen for Spurs in midfield.
Rodgers will have the option of Coutinho and if he manages to click with Suarez the way Gerrard has been doing this season, Liverpool could still find a way of managing without their captain but that seems like expecting too much from a player yet to produce his best this season due to injuries.
Steven Gerrard started 35 games last season for Liverpool, his highest in a Premier League campaign and has been ever present this season as well with starts in every league encounter so far. He's been a vital cog for Liverpool over the years and his absence is something the team will feel no matter how much Rodgers denies it.
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