The onset of Steven Gerrard’s transformation from attacking midfielder to one who sits in front of the defence has sparked much debate among Liverpool fans.
The question does not seem to be “is he good enough?” as much as “does he have the right attributes?” Unfortunately for Brendan Rodgers, Gerrard’s performance in Liverpool’s 2-2 draw against Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday raised more questions than it answered.
Gerrard was poor, particularly inside the first half-hour, when he gave the ball away to almost cost his side a goal, and then lost Andreas Weimann for Villa’s opener.
On the face of it, the problem is simple – as a midfielder who has spent his whole career playing in advanced positions, charging at opposition defences, does Gerrard have the defensive awareness for a role shielding the back-line?
That role demands discipline, and Gerrard simply must curb his attacking instincts if it is to work. He has the passing range and the set-piece delivery, while his through-balls from deep can start a counter-attack in the blink of an eye. He is also strong when defending set pieces.
His all-round contribution remains vital; Gerrard scored the equaliser against Villa from the penalty spot, and was also on target against Stoke City last week. He retains an eye for the big goals and key moments. Nonetheless, it will take time for the 33-year-old to adapt.
Gerrard was honest in his assessment of his performance against Villa. “I’ve played attacking midfield for more than 10 years, so for me to drop back and become more of a controlling player, people are naturally going to talk about it,” he said. “It didn’t work today. I hope that doesn’t mean it won't work moving forward in future fixtures.”
Clearly, Rodgers is determined to make it work, even if his comparison between Gerrard and Italian legend Andrea Pirlo seemed a little optimistic.
It would be a surprise if the manager abandoned the idea straightaway. Yet the fact remains that with Gerrard in his new position, Liverpool have shipped goals at an alarming rate – five in their last two games.
If Rodgers is intent on only playing one holding midfielder, then he has other options. Lucas Leiva - briefly on the field against Villa before getting injured - is a more natural choice, though retains an air of clumsiness that is frustrating to watch and must be infuriating to play alongside. Then there is Joe Allen, less suited but a competent all-round midfielder.
Neither possesses the ability to affect a game as Gerrard does, but it is when one of these two is playing alongside the skipper that Liverpool tend to look more resilient.
Rodgers may look to bring in a new signing to play in the role – Yann M’Vila is one option whom Liverpool are reported to be interested in – but for now, he seems confident that Gerrard’s “technical ability” is enough to keep him in his new position.
The early signs have been mixed, and Liverpool fans may well have to remain patient.
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