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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Liverpool: Why Gerrard needs to play on the wings


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Euro 2012 gave hope and credence to the idea of a disciplined Steven Gerrard deployed as a conventional centre midfielder could not only be successful but inspired. However, playing for Roy Hodgson and Brendan Rodgers are two different prospects entirely.

Maligned of late, Gerrard has been exposed in the possession orientated style demanded by Rodgers. He has been guilty of erratic performances:  

Against Tottenham, it was his poor turnover from being caught sluggish with the ball that conceded an easy opener … a tap-in that was woefully covered by an inept Downing at left-back. The game was ultimately lost by one goal.

Nevertheless the veteran responded with a man-of-the-match performance against Southampton.

However, his season continued to be plagued with inconsistency with another indifferent performance against West Ham in which he was overwhelmed by the dynamic Diame (a shame the Liverpool pursuit of the player stalled after the dismissal of Dalglish).

Despite his own goal, that game seemed a product of unfortunate happenstance, his regular mistakes throughout the season are inexcusable.

A true measure of consistent failings: pass percentage. Gerrard has managed around an 80% pass completion for the season, while midfield partner Joe Allen has outperformed him significantly; boasting a completion rate around 90%.

He is still very capable of producing the sublime, and spotting a killer defence-splitting pass; he played the ball for Glen Johnson’s opener. But his style is much more suited to an advanced position.

A return to the right wing/support striker, the position in which he flourished with 20-goal seasons under Rafa Benitez, is needed. Reports of loss of pace and stamina have been greatly exaggerated. Touch, skill and finishing ability still reside in his boots. Gerrard can still consistently provide a goal threat up front.

Further making the case is the dearth of advanced options available for Rodgers. Sterling faces inevitable burnout having appeared in 27 games (24 starts) before his 18th birthday. Albeit receiving plaudits for his play so far this season, Sterling has scored only twice. Gerrard is needed to supply the goals Sterling is unable to contribute, to lessen the burden on Suarez.

A move away from midfield for Gerrard wouldn’t leave the Reds vulnerable either, safe in the knowledge that Jonjo Shelvey can easily fill the void.

Rodgers is clearly a fan of Jonjo Shelvey and the moment between the two of them during the documentary series ‘Being: Liverpool’ in which the manager talks about the young midfielder's future in a midfield three with Joe Allen and Lucas whilst having Steven Gerrard in a wide role is an exciting proposition.

It's also easy to see where Suso fits moving forward under Brendan Rodgers. With the manager speaking positively about the "arrogance" the young midfielder has in possession, a quality that is critical in a possession-based style. His duties as a winger may continue while the club waits for reinforcements, but he seems most comfortable and effective through the middle; capable of spreading play and linking up with the forwards from an advanced position.

Suso's already shown signs of a terrific understanding with Luis Suarez, playing the striker into space with perfectly-weighted and timed through balls and providing the support that the Uruguayan's so desperately needed.

It is not long until January and presumed attacking signings, but even with new arrivals, a switch of position will benefit Gerrard’s play. It is clear that the transition of the marauding Captain Fantastic to strict deep-lying pass master has been difficult, it has also mirrored the measured transition of the club.  

Regardless of form and position, it would be wise to never write off Gerrard.

Calling all Liverpool fans: Do you agree with Dave? Should Gerrard be deployed in a more attacking role? Have you been pleased with Gerrard's performances this season? Do you think we will see the best of Stevie G again? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth

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