The age-old myth of a player’s lifespan in football is a constant discussion point around the world and for Liverpool great Steven Gerrard, there is persistent conjecture about his supposed waining effect on the pitch.
The 34-year-old is currently in his 16th season at Anfield and his achievements are there for all to see – Champions League winner, two FA Cups, three League Cups, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
The glaring admission from that list is of course a League title and the pain of last season’s fatal slip against Chelsea will be burning in his stomach for a while yet.
However, the most interesting facet about his outstanding season last campaign was his switch to a more defensive-minded midfield position and how he used his exceptional football nous to orchestrate Liverpool’s title charge to great effect.
It appeared too that as his feet gave way on the halfway line at Anfield on that dark April afternoon, the critics were ready to pounce and used his misfortune to start questioning his prowess in the defensive midfield role.
The Liverpool captain then found himself shouldering the blame for the late capitulation at Crystal Palace, and although there is an argument to suggest that he needed to use his leadership qualities to stem the tide, it wasn’t his defensive errors that resulted in the three goals being scored.
Now after seven rounds of the Premier League season and the international break upon us, the doubters are still circling around Gerrard’s effectiveness in his midfield role – but a new twist surfaced from the last 15 minutes on Saturday as Liverpool sealed a 2-1 victory over West Brom.
With a quarter of an hour to go at Anfield, Philippe Coutinho’s number was raised on the fourth official’s board and Lucas replaced him. It appeared as though that the Brazilian defensive midfielder was going to partner Gerrard and shield the back four in the hope to rule out another late equalizer.
However, what ensued will not only put a smile on the Liverpool fans’ faces, but will also make the critics think twice about questioning whether his time under Brendan Rodgers is coming to an end.
Gerrard vacated the defensive midfield role for the incoming Lucas and moved into the attacking midfield position that he had previously flourished in for over a decade at Anfield.
In this brief 15 minute spell, Liverpool had their most effective spell of incisive forward play and the enigmatic Mario Balotelli appeared to enjoy combining with his captain’s quick one-touch passing.
Gerrard’s ability to see the play unfold well before others, allows him to break down the commonly stubborn defenses that visit Anfield and it looked as though he relished returning to the position that made him so revered.
With Rodgers’ side currently sitting ninth on the table and nine points off leaders Chelsea, Gerrard’s influence over another busy period coming up cannot be underestimated and the return of Daniel Sturridge will add that missing dynamism in attack.
Although it seems unlikely that Liverpool will make a similar late charge to one they enjoyed last season, if the likes of Balotelli, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling can all get on the pitch at the same time, then there should be renewed cause for optimism on the Kop and you never know – maybe then the critics will give the Liverpool captain a richly deserved break.
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