What Should Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers Do With Steven Gerrard?

The only path to sustainable success is stability. The only way a side without extraordinary financial backing can succeed in an environment as tough as the Premier League is through having a defined plan bought into by all its players. Perhaps what has been most disappointing to Liverpool supporters about the start to the season isn’t the points dropped, but the fact that their side is at best showing only incremental improvement in understanding Brendan Rodgers’ system from week to week.

Regardless of whether or not you think the style is correct, the fact is that Rodgers only wants his side to play one way. All of his summer business was geared to it, with Fabio Borini and Joe Allen brought in to speed up the learning curve and Liverpool’s only true Plan B in Andy Carroll shipped out. Liverpool haven’t played in Rodgers way enough this season, and that’s the frustrating part. When they do, they look threatening and dangerous. Some of the play against Manchester City and Sunderland flowed beautifully, regardless of the finishing problems. Yet too often that standard hasn’t been met, with players losing patience too quickly in the final third and rendering all possession before that sterile.

Steven Gerrard has been the worst culprit, not only because much of the creative burden in the final third is supposed to stem directly from his gifted right foot, but because he’s not merely breaking up opponent attacks with his sloppy play. Liverpool have been torn apart on the counter numerous times after a simple pass has gone straight to the opposition. It’s hard to take, especially when it’s happening so often, especially when it’s Steven Gerrard.

The man’s not going to change. He’s 32. It’s been 409 times he’s played for Liverpool and every game has been approached the same way, with the belief that he’s the player who has to make the difference. We know the name son, highlight passes and surging runs. Except now the legs aren’t quite as strong, otherwise surely that layoff against Sunderland would have been converted like it was 2008. Except now the diagonals are running out of play and the corners are awful. Except now when the going gets tough, the tough suddenly look disinterested and make Joe Allen play for two men.

Jonathan Wilson noted as much in his fantastic article in April. “Gerrard was at his best when he could be let off the leash, when the situation was so desperate that he could be released from responsibility and told simply to swash buckles and storm barns all over the pitch.” Liverpool’s own Roy of the Rovers, and that stereotype has only become more apt since Benitez left. Napoli in 2010, Newcastle in 2011, Everton in 2012, all felt the storm of an inspired Gerrard.

Is it all doom and gloom? Is it time for Gerrard to be phased out so this new, slicker Liverpool engine can properly start purring? No, at least I hope not. The man still offers a unique set of skills unmatched in Liverpool’s midfield. Nuri Sahin needs time, Joe Allen is already trying to be both himself and Lucas, and Jonjo Shelvey doesn’t have the experience or the talent. Liverpool should be better when they play their talisman, not worse. Wilson’s argument of Gerrard’s gravitas destabilizing those around him doesn’t hold now. Joe Allen has been the Player of the Season so far, often rotating fluidly with Gerrard, and Nuri Sahin was himself the big boss at Dortmund. When Gerrard looks engaged in the system Liverpool look a different class, the problem is that’s happened too little this season.

West Brom was awful, an 82% pass completion rate and only 70% in the final third. Three shots from the edge of the box that were a waste. Manchester City was slightly better, the overall pass completion rate was down to 78% but Gerrard doubled his chances created, including the rare assist from the corner for Martin Skrtel. The Arsenal game looks worse than it is because of Gerrard’s culpability for Podolski’s opening goal. He also created five chances with an 84% completion rate in the attacking third. It’s really not his fault that Liverpool are impotent in front of goal (except when it’s him missing the chances).

Sunderland offered the biggest positive, as the skipper was moved deeper into midfield despite both Rodgers’ and Gerrard’s insistence that he has a role to play behind the striker. 99 passes, almost double what he’s normally been contributing this season, with an 85% completion rate. Patience, with around 40% of his passes backwards or square (as compared to Allen’s 54% but Gerrard’s job is to provide most of the creativity to the forwards). His most passes were to Sterling, showing a willingness to spread play calmly to the flanks. Most importantly, Gerrard looked alive, even in a role that didn’t best suit him and one that he’s stated he doesn’t see himself in. Hopefully that’s not a one off due to the exacting week the city and club have been through.

Where is Gerrard’s best place in this side? It needs to be a position that accommodates both the player and the team. There needs to be protection behind Gerrard so that he can show off his hero act, with the odd errant pass that comes with it. One of the wide forward roles may be a good fit, if just so that Raheem Sterling’s legs don’t fall off from overuse. Rodgers’ system requires the front three to be fluid and interchangeable anyway, and Suarez and Gerrard have shown the ability to link dangerously in the past.

It’s a hard job that the supporters want Gerrard to do, he was restrained and beneficial to the system against Sunderland, but created zero chances. He tried to boss the game against Arsenal, creating five chances, but sold Suarez a dummy that led to the Gunners’ opening goal. Of course the only reason fans are being so harsh on their idol is because the man has spoiled us by being consistently superb for over a decade. Perhaps a wide forward position offers the best compromise, with enough scope for expression but within the confines of the way Brendan Rodgers wants to play.

14 thoughts on “What Should Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers Do With Steven Gerrard?”

  1. A nice article on a topic I wanted to write for 2 weeks. Steven Gerrard is better when he is playing behind the striker that’s obvious. But until Lucas returns, it’s obligatory that he plays deeper. But in the tight games like against The Red Devils or The Toffees, he should play more higher up the pitch so that his mistakes don’t cost them much.

  2. “swash buckles and storm barns all over the pitch.”

    epitomizes what constitute as good midfielder for english pundits.

    The only position Gerrard can play without costing Liverpool is behind the striker. He is not tactically intelligent enough to play in a 433 or a 442 as he takes way too many gambles.

    As much as i hate liverpool, i can admit that Gerrard had tactical intelligence to go with his supreme athleticism and technique, he would have been the best player of his generation.

  3. I’ve never rated Gerrard as highly as some, and his style of play was never conducive for longevity.

    He’s washed up, and has been for the last two or three seasons now. Though Gerrard is capable of the sublime, his style is married to brute force and power. Gerrard obviously had the eye for a killer pass, and when is/was on song, he plays some magnificent stuff. I would say Gerrard rarely controlled a game – though his ability to will himself and teammates is impressive (Istanbul 2005).

    As has been stated, Gerrard plays the best off the striker, which doesn’t really fit in with how Rodgers wants to play. Also, building a team around a 32 year old with injury concerns doesn’t make any sense in the long run.

    Always a fine and inspiring player, Gerrard lacks the technical skill of players like Scholes or Pirlo (which may be unfair comparison – as it’s hard to debate those two are among the finest midfielders of their generation). And remember, Scholes started out as a very attack minded midfielder, only to move back to a deeper position and continue to put in great performances into his late 30’s.

    Pirlo’s showing for Juve last year and Italy at the Euros at the age of 33 shows an obvious gulf in class between the two.

    If Gerrard is to play any part in the future at Anfield, this type of positional transition would be imperative. It just seems unlikely he’d ever be comfortable in that type of role.

    I’m sure I’ll get flamed for this response, but look at the sudden decline of Gerrard. To the author’s point, his progress does look promising. And unless Gerrard accepts that shifting his style is the only way to keep laying, I’m not sure about his future at Anfield.

    And just to stir up further controversy, was Gerrard, even at his peak, was Gerrard the best midfielder in his team? Over the course of their LFC careers, and overall careers, I would rate Xabi Alonso much higher than Gerrard.

    1. Gerrard has the technical skill. He can make every pass. What he lacks is tactical intelligence, something the players you mentioned(Pirlo, Xavi, Scholes) have in abundance.

    2. I’m not sure I agree that he has a lack of tactical intelligence rather than it often has looked like he doesn’t fully trust his supporting cast. I completely agree with your first statement, that his game was predicated on power, athleticism, and guile. But the mounting injuries have clearly taken their toll.

      I’m not really sure where he is the best fit in this current system, though. Remember, he came up as a defensive mid, and during Rafa’s tenure was used in several positions. I really don’t think he has the legs for playing wide. Rafa also had suggested that perhaps late in Gerrard’s career he would make a good striker, as he is a pretty good finisher. Should Rodgers try him in the middle of the attacking three, move Suarez wide (as he did last week), and rotate Sterling and Borini? Maybe. I’m not sure I trust him to stay deep if he plays in a holding role … then again, when Lucas comes back he wouldn’t have to.

      Or, maybe he just needs time to adjust to this system and will turn it around.

      1. The problem with playing Gerrard in the middle is that Suarez didn’t look comfortable at all on the flank on Saturday, struggling to make an impact until the second half while Borini looked only mildly better in the center than the flank. Rodgers’ system does require fluidity between the front three but Borini seems to be the only one fully adjusted having worked with the manager before. Perhaps later on as Liverpool are desperate for bodies to fill those positions.

      2. It often seemed to me in the last couple games that Gerrard was making a pass to where a person SHOULD be, but they weren’t. I think a bit too much is being blamed on Gerrard here. And not bringing in any talent during the transfer window, decent players who can do more than the rubbish of Downing and Henderson, is simply criminal.

  4. Paul, your point is well taken.

    Though, in my defense, I meant more in a sense of close control, clever turns, quick movement. He just doesn’t look like a player who can smoothly control a game. Generally, I say there’s just an unwillingness to be patient (again tactical intelligence). Though I think you summed up what I tried to say in 5 paragraphs in one sentence.

    The very fact that he does his best work “off the leash” is akin to a player who lacks said intelligence, and relies purely on power to play effectively.And I don’t think it’s a coincedence his best football was played under Benitez, when Liverpool hit on the break, and Gerrard could freely storm forward with Masch/Xabi protecting him.

    The more solely holding the midfield zone is placed on Gerrard’s shoulders, the worse he looks – look no further than him playing in central zones this season, or his performances for England

  5. Gerard is ill-suited for the patient, passing play of the new Liverpool system. Every time he gets the ball he wants to pass forward and is in a hurry. He also wants to make that killer pass from 40-50 yards out. Given his age he is not likely to change so i think he might be best used as a substitute especially if he continues to be sloppy with his play. Liverpool should be looking to the future given that this season is a bust and they will struggle to make the top 6.

    Better to feature players that can adapt to the new system with an eye beyond this season.

    1. I don’t think Rogers can outright bench Gerrard. The fans(and THE MEDIA) barely forgave him for getting rid of Carroll(even though he doesn’t fit Liverpool). How do you think they would react if he was to bench Gerrard?

  6. Paul – haven’t you heard that Joe Allen has been promised the captain’s armband? Rogers will bench Gerrard and Reina to give Joe the chance to lead a new liverpool.

  7. The question was what SHOULD Rodgers do not what WILL he do. We know he won’t bench Gerard because of his status in the club and the supporters love for him. However, if Rodgers makes an honest appraisal of the situation then he should begin making changes to suit his style with an eye to the future.

  8. Wow!!!.. Ill suited!!!,, tactically poor,,!!?,, so many comments bein thrown out.. Yes he has misplaced some passes recently.. But come on!!! Some of u guys are pointing out Stevie G.s flaws now.. I mean if anyone knows better abt how he does on the pitch is him. That is why he is out there playin week in week out m8s.. Not us.. N i wonder how great we are tactically, to mention him in the tacticslly poor bracket.. N ill suited for certain sptyle… No wonder!! After all we have played n mastered these systems.. Hence we comment about stevie… Right_!?!?!?!?!?!?! YNWA…

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