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Friday, April 29, 2011

Is Gerrard past his best?

Typically Steven Gerrard has been seen as Liverpool's talismanic skipper, the driving force in the engine room who would take games by the scruff of the net and drag the Reds back from the jaws of defeat to clinch historic victories. His passion, determination and commitment to the club make him the most loved player amongst supporters and perfectly summarise the values inherent within the Liverpool Way.

However, although Gerrard has undoubtedly formed the heart and soul of the club alongside fellow scouser Jamie Carragher during their respective careers, the former's influence on proceedings has undeniably diminished this season and his performances have done little to suggest that he is any more special than any other player in that famous Red shirt.

Since scoring a stunning 24 goals in 2008/2009 Gerrard has failed to replicate the fine form that helped Liverpool to a second placed finish during that enthralling year, netting half as many times last season and only managing eight so far this campaign, on a par with the much maligned David Ngog.

This down turn in form coincided with an 18-month spell where Fernando Torres, who had previously linked up excitingly and excellently with Gerrard, suffered from poor form and failed to live up to the world-class status he enjoyed during his first few seasons on Merseyside.

With Spanish ace Xabi Alonso also returning to his homeland during the 2009 summer transfer window, the terrific triumvirate that had been at the heart of the Reds' title challenge was gradually eroding and Gerrard's form has suffered as a result. No longer receiving a constant source of passes from Alonso and unable to trust Torres to finish off any moves he orchestrated, Gerrard's role has steadily reduced and his influence on the pitch has been less tangible.

Another difficult and injury ravaged campaign this season has given Gerrard little chance of recovering his form and, with the 30-year old approaching the twilight of his career, his role in the side must surely be revised in order to accommodate for the burgeoning talent around him in the Reds' midfield.

Despite being without their captain since the beginning of March, Liverpool haven't missed Gerrard, instead embarking on a remarkable run which has seen the Reds comprehensively beat Manchester City, earn a hard fought and dramatic draw at the Emirates and claim their largest margin of victory this season against Carling Cup winners Birmingham.

Perhaps more significantly, conscientious midfielder Jay Spearing has been one of many youngsters to come to the fore during this spell, forming a flourishing relationship alongside Lucas, as the ever improving duo provide crucial support for their attack minded midfield partner Raul Meireles.

With the emergence of Lucas, Spearing and Meireles arrives more competition for Gerrard that, although obviously beneficial for the club, may mean that the Reds’ number 8 has to change his style of play. When in form Gerrard's preferred all action approach usually involves tough tackling, exhaustive running and sensational shooting, leaving his unmistakable imprint on every blade of grass on the famous Anfield turf.

Despite modifications by Benitez, who believed that he occasionally ran unwisely and unnecessarily, a desire to have an impact in every area of the pitch is a fundamental part of Gerrard's makeup. However, with age and injuries now catching up with him, Gerrard may have to move back to a holding midfield role in upcoming campaigns, where he could continue to make strong challenges and ping passes around Anfield, while not having to cope with the demanding role of a box-to-box midfielder.

Although as a Red I am loathe to praise Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, the unquestionably knowledgeable Scot has expertly changed the roles of ageing stars such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. As a result they have contributed to United's continued success, with Scholes' and Giggs' experience proving invaluable in the big games despite Neville's impromptu retirement earlier this season.

If, upon his inevitable permanent appointment, King Kenny can similarly successfully utilise Gerrard's abilities in a slightly different position then he could retain a crucal role in Liverpool's starting eleven for the forseeable future.


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