IT seems that one challenge Brendan Rodgers has as Liverpool FC manager is going to be reducing or perhaps reconfiguring the wage bill while sustaining a push for a top four finish.
Therefore it may seem counterintuitive to argue that one of the squad’s key players, highest earner, captain and talisman should be made the 23rd man when it comes to adapting the squad to the challenge ahead. But I’m going to do that. Liverpool’s squad should have 22 first team members. And Steven Gerrard.
Indeed, I’ve been quietly arguing this for 12 months. But the arrival of Rodgers, his possession-orientated, controlling football brings the argument further into focus. If Liverpool are to have greater systemic control – as discussed in the article linked from Roy Henderson, as well as this by Andy Gargett – and many similar pieces about Rodgers’ time at Swansea all suggest, then the option is there to have greater choice over which games Gerrard plays and where he plays them.
Steven Gerrard has been, and is, a great player. With guidance and good players around him there isn’t an outfield job he couldn’t do well. He has almost everything a footballer needs and demonstrated that further while playing for England this summer.
However he’s also been susceptible to injury over the past four seasons and he’s aging. Managing his future is critical to Liverpool’s potential success; relying upon him could well be detrimental to that same success.
Rodgers’ system could mean Gerrard is less missed. There is the notion that certain players play better in Gerrard’s absence. I’d tend towards thinking that is their problem (and the manager’s) rather than Gerrard’s.
The intended control of possession, combined with Gerrard’s immense ability, could well mean that Gerrard could step into any position on the park either to target a weakness in the opposition or to offer an alternative to Liverpool.
On The Anfield Wrap podcast, Rob Gutmann has said repeatedly that Rodgers may struggle to solve a problem all top sides come up against: an opposition hellbent on sitting on the edge of their own area for long stretches, especially at Anfield. If, say, Glen Johnson was absent from a home game then Gerrard could be a better option from right back than Martin Kelly.
Spain have solved this problem of sides sitting deep against them by accepting it, but overloading with talent and penetration from all areas of the pitch – what Gianluca Vialli called two defenders and eight midfielders. Barcelona have done likewise, culminating in their pursuit of Jordi Alba this summer. Mascherano and Pique are both able to step into midfield, further extending their ability to play from all angles.
The one place where Gerrard’s ability to impact a game could be least useful is the role Leon Brittain played for Swansea, the one Lucas will most likely fill in Rodgers’ Liverpool.
Linking defence and midfield is what Gerrard often falls back into when he believes Liverpool aren’t playing well, but it is a waste. A waste of his penetrative passing and running, his finishing, his delivery. It is a waste of what remains sheer heart-thumping incision and if the feeling persists that Gerrard cannot manage this every four days any more then it is more of a reason to manage him so he can do it when it really counts.
Gerrard is a player who needs facilitating, not a facilitator like Brittain and Lucas Leiva, though he can do it.
Gerrard would actually be of greater use against poorer sides at Anfield striding out of central defence with the ball, shocking a rigid opposition and getting 30 yards short of their goal with the ball at his feet.
That makes players make decisions and when players have to make decisions they make mistakes. Gerrard as Beckenbauer doesn’t take much imagination. Gerrard as Fabregas in Spain’s system doesn’t take much imagination. That’s the measure of the player. Gerrard at right back or left-sided forward, scything through a defence, doesn’t take much imagination. Other than perhaps for himself.
Selling this to the player may be the toughest aspect. This isn’t a sticking plaster solution and it shouldn’t be seen as that – that Liverpool could use Gerrard at right back doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have Martin Kelly. Nor that they should look to have 20 strong outfield workers. It is essential, given the size of the task at hand, they do. The notion of using Gerrard cleverly comes to nought if a manager’s hand is regularly forced due to a lack of strength in depth. Gerrard is a weapon that should be maintained and unleashed with the manager’s and his own intelligence.
It is in innovations and gambles such as this where Rodgers’ Liverpool will prosper. We expect the club to spend. But we know they won’t outspend City and Chelsea and doubt they’ll outspend United and Spurs. We can’t compete with fellow European giants Real and Barca without being able to offer giant European football. We can be outspent by Malaga and Paris St Germain. We can’t even match the wages offered to certain players by clubs in China and Russia.
Liverpool need to be clever. Given that everyone else mentioned above is trying to be clever as well, it’ll be tough.
Finding a way to prolong Gerrard’s career, utilising his astonishing range of abilities and making him 23rd from 22 doesn’t sideline him. It emphasises those abilities and his importance.
It could be exactly the edge Rodgers’ Liverpool will need.
With these points in mind what are the views of Gerrard wanting to extend his England Career?
It’s completely upto him.
I don’t whole heartedly agree with this; I do consider Gerarrd, over his career, as one of the most complete footballers of the modern era (whatever that actually means), maybe Rijkaard or Charlton are close and arguable better (not getting into that one, but it’s close) but in terms of versatility the former didn’t have SG’s offensive ability and the latter his defensive ones – and neither were close in wide positions – I believe Gerarrd is one of the few players I can think of who has played six different outfield positions at international level (RB, RM, DM, AM, LM, SS) and it’s not too much of a strech to believe he could’ve done all 10 over career. He is a unique footballer – it was so ridiculous when Pearce put Parker as the England captain over SG, not just because of their respective CV’s (multiple world team’s of the years, CL, EC, FA, CC, winning captain, 80 odd caps and a history of carrying one of the worlds biggest teams on his own), but also because even the thing Parker does best, tackling, SG does better.
Despite all that though I don’t endorse your proposal for 2 reasons; number one, I’m a believer that the most important attribute in the defensive side of the game is a phenomenon described in various ways, but I term it ‘the pessimistic mentality’. Take the DM, yes greatness in shown in the occasional reading of a pass, or the ball winning tackle, but for me it’s the neurocism of the position that is crucial, it’s the mentality of tracking run after run over 90 minutes (of sheer hell), never letting a runner free unless undeniably they are covered; it’s the mentality that says it would have been that run that lead to the goal; thats what makes Lucas great, he doesn’t (or very rarely) lets players run off him. I remember watching Anderson, when Fergie had him initialy as a DM, he is physically much more powerful than Lucas and is technically excellent, but he kept letting runners run off him, he didn’t have the sacricificial nature for the role; it’s the opposite of the glory role, including the center backs who get to make last gasps tackles and shot blocks close to the line, it’s a thankless task, it literally is the water carrier, the donkey work and depends largely on instincts of the player, it’s about maturity and a sense of respnsible (if you sense I’m eulogising about the role than yes, it’s where I played).
There literally isn’t a better tackler in the country than SG, and he can read a pass better than most and has the physicality to intercept better than any CM playing in the prem; but what he no longer has is the sacrificial nature to do that minute after minute for an entire game; over the years he has become a match winner, he knows he can win matches – offensively, it’s in his blood, he doesn’t mind doing the donkey work for a period, but in the end he wants the liberty to step forward and create whenever he feels the need. I know you were not looking for him to play as a DM – quite the opposite, but that pessimistic mentality is needed (maybe to a lesser extent) in a lot of defensive roles that physical Gerarrd has been and can still be boss at for long streches, but aspirationally, it’s not where his heart is anymore.
The second reason I wouldn’t adopt the 23rd man approach is a bit simpler; I remember watching a ‘Top Ten’ on LFC TV some years ago, and it was the top ten striking duo’s; there was a criterea, you had to have played at least a full season together (maybe two, can’t 100% remember) and it was awarded strictly on your goals to game ratio – no sentiment or subjectivity. I think Keegan and Toshak were only 6th for example; anyway the number one strike duo in the history of LFC, based purely on strike rate was…..yes Steven Gerarrd and Fernando Torres, better than Hunt and The Saint, better than Beardsley and Aldo, and yes even better than Dalglish and Rush. People are very slow to recognise this, but as good as Steven is in midfield and wide, for me he was one of the best number 10’s in the world, when given a rhythm of playing there consistently. People put Torres’s loss of form down to various things, mental frailities, his knee, but Fernando Torres has only ever been GREAT when playing just ahead of Steven Gerarrd. Even in his pomp in 2008, when he went to the Euros, yes he got the winner, but he was comparatively poor the whole tournament; at athleti he was very very good, but he was distinctly a 1 in 3 striker, and we have seen how he has fared post Liverpool. In a compressed system, and with a speedy forward, who can make runs and can finish, Steven Gerarrd, in that number 10 role almost guarentees a striking partnership of 40 goals, his incissive passing is that good (not to mention his own scoring ability – in the bulk of Rafas tenure he didn’t dip below 20 goals a seasons). Obviously much of this depends on health, but for me, the number 10 role offers the most longevity on the pitch. I for one feel talk of hSG physical demise is massively overplayed by LFC fans, we’re just so scared of his eventual collapse that, with bravado we talk like it’s already happened as a defense mechanism. He as fast and strong as he’s ever been, but he does fall victim to injuries more than he used to, there is no denying this. Bur for the number 10 think Totti, Del Piero, Sherringham, Zola, Daglish etc, players that went on well into there mid and late 30’s at the top level; while it is often the most important offensive role on the pitch, it can also be the least physically demanding, admittedly Rodgers demands pressing high, so it less of a lothario role than it can be in other systems, but it is certainly less ‘battle heavy’ than a full back or sweeper, that is why I would buy a striker with pace and abiltity (Ba or Walcott or whoever) and build a team around SG as a 10, a new No.9 Suarez as a wide forward along with one other (preferable new signing) in a 4231 system. Also as an aside the above explains why I have an obsession with us getting Jack Rodwell, I think he is the closest thing to Steven Gerarrd in a football kit – I know, it’s my impossible dream.
Here is a man who understands his football.
I love SG as much as any LFC facn, and I know he is better than 80-90% of players in the world playing in pretty much any position on the pitch. But he is also better than 99% of the player in the world playing just behind the striker. Gerrard finishes better than most strikers. In fact, one on one with a keeper, I would back SG over most strikers, maybe Torres included even.
However, I do not think he has the positional discipline required of a CM for a team with championship winning aspirations. Alonso had it, (that’s why he didn’t score many goals), Mascherano had it, Lucas has it, but SG doesn’t. The number 10 position is the one that comes to him most instinctively. And as an LFC fan, that’s where I want him on the pitch. Leading from the front.
I think one of the main problems with Hodgson was that he saw SG as a perfectly capable CM or DM, which he is, but took away from his most important contribution to LFC in the prior 4/5 years. Even Torres suffered in goals (although to put his lack of form in context, He still scored 9 goals in half a season, compared to the 12 he has since scored for Chelsea in one and a half seasons).
If Liverpool can get another midfielder to play alongside Lucas and relieve an attacking quartet of SG, LS and FB +1 of the need to endlessly track back and separate themselves on the field (by either keeping/helping to keep the ball better or by breaking up opposition attacks), LFC just might have a good solid base on which to build a genuine push back into the Champions League.
Of course, this only works if we can get a CM of acceptable. Such a system requires that the CM partnership be good at getting the ball back, breaking up attacks, and carrying the ball back to the front, and those are the hardest players to find. Benitez found some gems in Alonso and Mascherano. Mascherano was adequately replaced, but Alonso wasn’t.
In my younger days if I could have been a footballer I would have been Emlyn Hughes.
He typified everything I wanted to do for Liverpool.
I’m a bit older now and I used to think that Gerrard was a “Flash Harry” with no substance.
How wrong can you be? This Lad has done it time and again and in my mind has now overtaken Emlyn in the contribution to our successes over the past 10/12 years.
So,”how dare you” to decide what’s good for Steven Gerrard? This Lad has given everything!And I mean everything time and again!
He should decide when and how he wants to play and just like I have unquestioned faith in KD,Stevie G will know when it’s time to pull his horns in.
Not you Mate!With the greatest respect!
Now that we have dropped Carroll and not added an additional striker, how about playing SG as a “false nine” a la Spain / Barcelona? Sterling could play the left and Suarez the right. As stated, Gerrard has the speed and finishing and also can add some aerial ability in the box. It may also result in less wear and tear on his body. The midfield could have Allen and Shelvey as deep-lying midfielders building from the back and play Sahin in the attacking role. These three all have the ability to rotate through any of these three spots until Lucas returns to his role.