By Hal Cohen
The cliches are valid: Steven Gerrard is a leader amongst men. Steven Gerrard is the greatest central midfielder of his generation.
Steven Gerrard is also the elephant in the Liverpool dressing room, getting larger by the game.
Brendan Rodgers game plan revolves around attacking dominance and relentless pressing, which has certainly been effective in Liverpool’s last twenty games.
As importantly though, a Liverpool side must be able to cope with teams who will dominate them and with teams who are just as good at constant pressing. It’s clear that Rodgers doesn’t yet have a solution for these teams, as Liverpool’s only league defeats to Arsenal and Southampton show.
Key to this is a solid central midfield, which Rodgers obviously knows. (Take this quote from after the Arsenal game, for example: “Their control of the game and mobility around the middle of the field was better than ours.”)
Lucas has at times shown the form he displayed pre-injury, tracking back and sweeping up in front of the defence, whilst at other times looks out of his depth. Jordan Henderson has demonstrated boundless energy in pressing and chasing, and is increasingly demonstrating the standard of performance that many Liverpool fans doubted he could consistently achieve.
How about Gerrard? Even in his prime, with poor positional sense and woeful tackling ability, Gerrard was never a decent defensive midfielder. Aged 32 and damaged by injury, Gerrard is now restricted further, not having the legs or energy to chase down the opposition or bring the ball forward quickly to turn defence into attack. He was anonymous against Arsenal, and has offered little in other recent games.
Rodgers’ desire to play the now fit Phil Coutinho through the middle, and maintain sufficient width, generates a need to sacrifice one of this midfield three. The brave choice would be for Gerrard to be the man to make way, with Lucas kept back as a holding midfielder.
Jordan Henderson, rather than Gerrard, is surely the most suitable player to fulfill the crucial role of breaking up play and driving upfield with the ball to link up with Coutinho and the front line.
It would be unfair to completely write off Gerrard, who perhaps still can succeed in a role higher up the pitch, having contributed when both Coutinho and Lucas were out of the team. However, it seems that Rodgers, and perhaps Gerrard himself, don’t believe he has the stamina to regularly play in this position.
Brendan Rodgers targeted a number 10 star player in the last transfer window, but with Coutinho and Suarez in the squad, this should surely not be top priority. Building a solid foundation in midfield is one problem he cannot wait to solve, even before having the opportunity to strengthen in January. The key question is: Does Brendan Rodgers have the courage to set out a Liverpool side that doesn’t include Steven Gerrard?
Gerrard woeful tackling ability? Complete nonsense.
Yeah, I flinched at that as well. Maybe he’s getting him confused with Paul Scholes?
‘Key to this is a solid central midfield, which Rodgers obviously knows. (Take this quote from after the Arsenal game, for example: “Their control of the game and mobility around the middle of the field was better than ours.”)’
But in what world does Brendan think our control and mobility in midfield was going to be able to compete with Arsenal’s picking this team we’ve been playing, particularly seeing as we haven’t looked to sign a DM since Lucas was initially crocked two years ago?
Excellent piece, Hal.
The question is long overdue. Truth be told, it’s been begging to be asked since the very moment Rafa left. Is Steven Gerrard meant for centre-mid? I’ve long argued the answer is “No”.
Rafa understood this all quite clearly. Which is why, even when Stevie still had his legs under him, the boss still shifted the captain into a forward role. And we watched the best years of Gerrard’s career unfold because of the switch.
Gerrard has many truly great attributes as a player. He has a phenomenal shot, can pick a peach of a pass from quite some distance, and is lethal in and around the box. He’s capable of being a great leader. Then there are his set pieces, which tend to be exquisite.
Unfortunately, going on four years now, none of those qualities are what the midfield has been missing. A good first touch, an ability to shield the ball under pressure, quick passing, making oneself available immediately, high-intensity pressing, tactical discipline, and stamina are what we’ve long needed in the space Gerrard has attempted to occupy. Again, I would argue, that Rafa knew this well and adjusted accordingly. A Brendan Rodgers midfield, the kind most of us were so keen on when he first came aboard, desperately cries out for those specific qualities through the centre.
The power-structure at the club changed after Rafa, though. Gerrard, in all likelihood, found himself with the power to grab a hold of centre-mid and entrench himself at his long-favored in position. And he’s done just that. We’ve been about mid-table ever since. Almost everything has changed at the club since that time — both on and off the pitch — and, still, our midfield seems incapable of functioning properly. The one constant has been Gerrard.
I had thought Rodgers would be a bit more firm in his desire to play football according to his principles. After rough first month and a half into last season, unfortunately, Rodgers realized his midfield was incapable of executing his preferred style of play. He could have stuck it out, made the necessary changes — which I had hoped would be the case — and truly built an identity on the pitch.
Alas, here we are a year later. Our midfield play still roughly resembles the undisciplined, frantic, hurried mess we’ve watched for most of these past three or four seasons. There’s still no one terribly interested in being very good on the ball at centre-mid. Rodgers had a golden opportunity handed to him in Nuri Şahin. But the boss punted and, for the first time, revealed his main weakness – courage.
You asked the key question for the here and now – Does Rodgers have the courage to well and truly address our long-standing midfield issue? Up to this point, the answer is still an emphatic “No”.
And that’s a shame. This manager has the right ideas. Let’s hope he finds the stomach to follow them.
Right, it’s all Gerrard’s fault. Not Statler and Waldorf’s inane running of the club, not the millions wasted on planning the never-to-be new stadium, not the tens of millions wasted on players who, like Aquilani and Carroll, never seemed wanted, not the pointless sacking of Benitez on a bumper new contract, not the appointment of Hogdson, not the premature sacking of Dalglish…
It’s. All. Gerrard’s. Fault.
Get over it, Gerrard is nothing like the player he used to be. He’s living off his former reputation and Rodgers should be looking for a replacement to play the way he sets up his side.
Gerrard is still a legend, but the longer he plays well beyond his best is only going to tarnish him. People age, that’s life, more so when you have been a world class athlete.
I’ve seen nothing this season to justify that opinion. He’s still one of the only world-class players in the squad. I’m not the greatest Hodgson fan by any stretch, though he is a solid manager with a great depth of experience. With that in mind, do you seriously think he would be captain and a mainstay in the England team if he was finished or couldn’t hack it anymore?
Over his career Gerrard has faced this sort of criticism time and again, “indisciplined”, “overrated”, “Hollywood passes” etc. It’s sad that now it’s Liverpool fans getting on his back.
The whole team played badly at Arsenal, their midfield exposed the limitations of the current squad and system. But they’re 5 points ahead of the rest for a reason.
5 points ahead but not played a single top side that will be in the top 6 at the end of the season. Arsenal have had the best start against the crap of the division, but they’re actually worse off points wise against the same garbage compared to last season. Expect them to fall once they start playing sides that will be competing for Europe. LFC will probably be well short again unless FSG buy a top player or two in Jan.
This is a disappointing article for me. So before cracking on with my work here are my thoughts on it!
Firstly I accept that Steven Gerrard is not 27 (he is not 32 either). I also accept that Steven Gerrard has been moved by most managers in his career from centre midfield for a number of tactical purposes, , some accentuating his positve characteristics but mostly to hide his lack of tactical discipline. I also accept that Gerrard game will have changed in some sense with both positive and negative consequences.
What’s difficult to accept is the idea that Steven Gerrard should not be a regular in this team at this point. Lucas is a good player but needs a better player next to him, not to replace him but to challenge and support. Henderson is a tricky one. Much improved or actually is he? More confident definitely, more regularly played, more (but not much more) regularly played in his position, more combative than Joe Allen and younger than Steven Gerrard but has his quality improved? That’s not meant as a criticism – he played well in his first year on occasions when played inside. I was in line with his goal against Chelsea in KD last game. Has he advanced in quality though? Arguably not, his control of games is limited still but his physical influence is more noticeable. Shooting? Those two opportunities on the edge of the box rarely translate into goals unless Henderson is on the front foot. His technical development has significant issues with passing and link up play. on the front foot he does things well but he can struggle regularly and….I really like Henderson! Break up play? i am not sure about that either? you can mostly see henderson coming unless its tight. All I ask is people consider the overall influence linked to quality. Therefore, if SG is ever to be replaced let’s be sure that the golden rule of football is observed – what comes in must be better than what goes out. I have to say about SG contributing is wrong and incorrect. He is not superman but he is playing decent. Sadly supporters (including me) often go to their subjective view when the reality is there are grey areas. Hal, you may of forgotten the outstanding ball that Sturridge should of scored from at the end of the Newcastle game and the influence of the last 15 minutes from SG. He also got MOM if I remember correctly. Stamina Hal? Another example? Last minute of an England game to score a fantastic individual goal? If I will accept that he is not a 10-10 every week will you accept that does not mean he is less than a six just because he is not olympiakos SG. He is contributing well.
However, did the game go on around him on sunday? absolutely! did u think that was all his fault? definitely not! Lets consider leaving the midfield as it is as it actually may not completely be all their fault. It can inbiously be improved though, however, the lack of analysis in the managers ability to organise the midfield area as part of a coherent team performance needs seriously analysing. Relentless pressing? I am just not seeing it. I am seeing some. Its cliché observation yet when you look more closely a great number of fans that I speak too are just not seeing it. Effort, yes, winning the ball as a consequence of that effort yes but systematic and organised pressing? I am not seeing it consistently and more crucially against the teams that it needs to be employed against more regularly.
Look at the deepness of the back 3? Ever played in a midfield Hal that is miles away from the back 3? I am sure you have, remember how it felt? At any level it’s difficult – by the way Hal which one of those forwards is dropping in to protect the midfield three? Is it the one standing up top or the one standing up top?! They work but not when gone past forward areas – advancing full backs need closing down and these midfielders?! its tough for them!! It was always going to be a problem against a better team – for example skirtel was sitting on minolet lap against west brom when anchiebe slipped, sakko constantly a yard or two behind. As we were beating west brom and people (who should no better) start talking about “it was like the old days” everyone I spoke too said the same thing – have you seen the space on the pitch when defending? How deep are we? I feel for midfielders in there – it was only a matter of time of when we played a good team that the midfield, and the team would be punished. We rarely move with the ball when attacking and defending. Look at the defence and midfield when the ball goes backwards. We used to pinch yards and inches to condense the space – now we leave yards of it. The manager simply has issues with specific defensive organisation I think. It’s not a comprehensive analysis but when I watch training (through the cracks, wheelie bin, blokes house on the corner – he does not mind as long as you do not swing on the railing) I see possession games but less focus on defensive organisation. I am aware that I could be completely and utterly wrong about this but I have seen it fairly regularly. Contrast this with rafa sessions (and let’s leave the lazy defensive description of rafa, organised for attack and defence). We do try to play though so we are halfway there under BR.
Anyway, back to SG. Be careful what you wish for! The elephant you refer to is still the national team captain. He still contributes. It’s the managers job to get the absolute most from him in the most suitable position (this does not have to be centre midfield). Despite being “damaged by injury” he played every minute nearly last season and most this season. To even talk of writing him off is bizarre especially with this current squad lacks all round quality – note the emphasis on all around. Overall, if you have better than SG you replace him (I am respectful but not sentimental) but would replacing him really be the answer at this point? Look at the manager mostly, what he doing with the team and that individual player because his qualities are being underused? Rogers is playing in a way that is largely underused? The best defender is not even playing!! For 5 games! How can you control possession with Daniel Agger on the bench? Great against west brom, harder against arsenal away Hal! These are the grey areas!
It’s rare an article frustrates me but this did as with respect Hal, did you consider the grey areas of whats influencing the game? I am not sure some if some of your assumptions are fully supported on closer analysis.
Anyway, onwards and upwards….
Great points but there is one question I’m unsure people have answered honestly. Do we possess the level of midfield player that can replace Gerrard and improve the side? Would a midfield of Lucas, Henderson, Coutinho do a better job against Southampton or Arsenal? I have my doubts. I think all of our central midfield players are ordinary. The entire unit. That’s the elephant. Our midfield is shit and we need to stop prentending the likes of Lucas and Henderson are above average.
Gerrard is 33 as well not 32. None of the other midfield players are better attacking than him. I’m not convinced any of them press better – Henderson maybe as he is more athletic. All of Hendo, Allen, Lucas are not the most composed on the ball when put under the cosh. I think to improve our midfield the club need to invest in better players. Taking Gerrard out and replacing his role with someone else in the squad will not improve things in my opinion.
United didn’t replace Brian Robson until they signed Paul Ince and then they signed Roy Keane. We’re going to replace a legend with an average player? That’s what Souness did and it didn’t get him very far.
Steven Gerrard unfortunately isn’t Alonso or Pirlo in that to quote an above post:
” A good first touch, an ability to shield the ball under pressure, quick passing, making oneself available immediately, high-intensity pressing, tactical discipline, and stamina are what we’ve long needed in the space Gerrard has attempted to occupy.”
So all Gerrard is offering at CM is a lot of long balls which sometimes come off. The rest of his game is set pieces. We’ve been getting walked through in midfield for too long now and the one ever present has been Gerrard.
” Do we possess the level of midfield player that can replace Gerrard and improve the side? Would a midfield of Lucas, Henderson, Coutinho do a better job against Southampton or Arsenal? I have my doubts. I think all of our central midfield players are ordinary. The entire unit. That’s the elephant. Our midfield is shit and we need to stop prentending the likes of Lucas and Henderson are above average.”
Then we need to go out and sign better and needed to in the summer. What about Joe Allen? We spent enough on him.
We can’t afford to just leave things as they are as we did Carragher and then when he leaves go out and sign 3 centre halves. We need a quality central midfield player now. It’s whether Rodgers has the balls to leave Gerrard out the team. This season he doesn’t, but Stevie will be 34 at the end of the season and then off to a World Cup, it’s time to look forward.
I agree. The problem is the club wasted £31m on 2 average midfield players neither of which could hold a candle to Gerrard in his prime (when we were a CL club). We need to buy a proper midfield player(s) before talking about leaving Gerrard out. I just cant say with any confidence that the likes of Henderson, Allen, Lucas are better options than Gerrard. I could see them getting eaten alive against City, Spurs or Chelsea. The answer to our problem is not to replacing an ageing, often ineffectual Gerrard with mediocrity. We need to bring in quality.
Well done for having the balls to write this piece mate. It may just be that Gerrard needs a rest or needs to play in certain games rather than all but it’s clear that it’s not working. Ok, some will point to West Brom or a few first half performances but the truth is, Arsenal was a clear realisation that what a lot of us have thought for a while, is indeed fact.
The midfield isn’t working against quality sides. You think a combination of Lucas, Allen, Henderson or Lucas, Henderson, Coutinho will?
If I’m honest, I think it has more chance of working with those. We have two players who can’t press for sustained periods and don’t get forward. On the rare occasions they do get forward they can’t get back in time. I think the way Rodgers wants us to play is being hampered by trying to fit Gerrard in. I’m not convinced he doesn’t still have a role to play at the head of the triangle but as, what is in effect a holding midfielder, it only works against weaker teams. I think it’s time to at least give Allen a go for a month.
As with most articles there are points i agree with and points i disagree with. I agree that Gerrard doesn’t have the legs to get up and down for 90mins anymore. Rodgers has chased a number 10 but why can’t Steven Gerrard Play there? He is still quality on the ball and i think getting him on the ball as high up the pitch as possible could be a way to use him, he may not be as involved in a game but when he actually gets the ball he can do something positive. i.e. create a clear cut chance or score a goal.
With us having no energy in the middle and struggling against pressing teams, i think it is time for Joe Allen to play and see if he can change that dynamic. He has been heavily criticised but we have seen what he can do at the start of last season. Sometimes it is about putting square pegs in square holes.
He’s being played out of position – stevie wonder could see that!
stick him up top, make him run around and if he gets injured, tough, end of debate.
Right on! I’d love to see SG attacking again. Even if it’s just 60 minutes a game.
Is this about Steven Gerrard who plays for Liverpool?That Steven Gerrard?Really?
So;let me get this right.You want to get rid of Gerrard so that the others can play a bit better?
Just think about that for a moment or two.
Thanks for your effort.
I presume the article is about the Steven Gerrard who plays for Liverpool… the site is called the Anfield Wrap, and the text of the article does indeed reference Gerrard playing for Liverpool. The tone of your comment leaves a lot to be desired, and is condescending to the original poster.
Let me get this in now…I’m 38, have watched Gerrard play for years, and his name is the only name I ever would have had on a kit. That he was a phenomenal player for us is unquestionable, so you cannot take that away from him.
It is not about getting rid of Gerrard. It is about using a player who does not have the physical capability to give 100% for 90 minutes – and getting 100% out of him for whatever length of time possible. Currently, this seems to be 60 minutes – by the end of the season it could be down to 45, or less. Plans need to be put in place so that when Gerrard needs to be replaced, we can do it with someone who has had a chance to bed in the team, develop partnerships and grow in confidence.
And yes, Gerrard in the team can hamper other players ability. He is such an icon, talisman and all the other cliches rolled into one that even established players defer to him. You can only have eleven players on the pitch at once, so if one of them is knackered it affects them all. After 60 minutes, having Gerrard on the pitch is like having fresh legs but with knackered hips – as the boys on the podcast have said before, midfield (and particularly a pressing midfield) is not a position where you can drift out of the game for large portions of time to recover, unlike if he is further towards the top of the pitch. Keeping Gerrard on reduces the work capacity of the whole team, because the spine of the team is affected.
HI Peter A,
You seem to be offended by my comment.Apologies to yourself and the writer if it appeared that way.
But let me ask you this;just imagine that you have to pick a team and organise a formation.And let’s say you have to choose one of 3 or 4 players at your disposal.And each of them is about 33 years old.And the players are Zidane,Ronaldhino,Dalglish and Platini for example.What would you do?Pick one and let the rest of the team support him?
Come on! This all sounds like throwing the baby out with the bath water!
One bad game and most probably the second greatest player in our history is pilloried by people who have too much time on their hands and think they know football because they play Chamionship Manager. Class is permanent form is temporary. Stevie G good for at least another season after this, #legend
Gerrard has been one of the clubs greatest players, when you stop and think about the great Gerrard moments (and there has been many) they involve goals, wonderful goals that only great players score when they have that one opportunity. Is Gerrard up there with Zidane, Guillet and Messi? Yes. Is he up there with Dalglish ? Yes. Is he up there with Souness ? No. Neither Alonso or Hamman.
I have always considered Gerrard as the most dynamic british No. 10 ever, he has all the gyile of a continental no 10 combined with a scouse determination and never say die mentality and i always considered him far closer to Dalglish than Souness. In many ways i think Gerrard does not realise how good an attaking player he is and this is his downfall in the autumn of his career.
Kenny played until hé was 36 and player manager, he still found Space, could make à pass and finish. Gerrard can still do this and should be encouraged to do so. Every LFC stricker has benefitted from Gerrard behind them in the final Third dropping in the killer pass, his delivery from free kicks is great as are his penalties.
He is still the strongest and most dynamic runner with the ball since John Barnes, that burst of acceleration past two men, but just like Barnes he is an average defensive midfielder or as good in this position as Zidane, Guillet or Dalglish would have been. The différence is of course is why would you ever ask à World class attacker be à défensive mid? I have no idea, yet this is where Gerrard wants to play, and hé has never been very good at it.
Souness, Alonso and Hamman would just dominate games and be in complète control, that is not Gerrards game, it never has been.
Gerrard changes games with goals and he should be made to stand between the centre circle and the oppositions penalty area and play like kaka did when shevchenvo and crespo played in front of him with AC Milan.
Let others defend and make Gerrard attack, for the last couple of years left in him play to his strengths, Sturridge and Suarez have plenty of mobility and often come deep, make Gerrard be the leader of the counter attacks not from his penalty area but from the centre circle, get the best out of him while we can.
Did anybody notice Stevie’s reactions after scoring his two penalties recently? He has almost looked embarrassed, which I think is due to his current performances. If Rodgers continues to let SG make 90 minute appearances in games, we will miss out on CL place. We need to build for the future.
He must have read this article before today’s game against Fulham. He’s a midfield genius, end of! Having Coutinho back allows Lucas and Henderson to do the dog work and Gerrard to pull the strings. Questioning him after one defeat to Arsenal, who have by far the best midfield in the league, is silly and short sighted. Cabaye would add massively to the squad though, not as a replacement for Gerrard but playing with him. Cabaye and another striker should be our priorities in January.
Hmmm – Gerrard played flat out for 60 minutes or so, then came off.
I’m more than happy with that.
An elephant in the room implies that somebody is inhibiting or restricting somebody.
The players who scored weren’t that inhibited were they?
And he bowed out after 60 minutes because he wants to be fit for England..And what’s wrong with that?