By Andy Sixsmith
Picture the scene. You are in charge of one of the country’s greatest football clubs. The team has made its worst start to a season in over 100 years with only one win in seven games. And to top it all off, your talisman, the crowd favourite and one of the club’s greatest ever players, is in form as poor as the club he has such an affinity for.
It is not the ideal situation for Brendan Rodgers and after another lethargic Anfield display against an admittedly committed Stoke outfit, there are further murmurs of discontent on the red half of Merseyside.
And at the hub of the club’s problems, is the form of their captain Steven Gerrard.
In a week where talk has centralised around Rio Ferdinand’s declining form in the twilight of his career, it can be argued the same could be said of the Kop legend.
Make no mistake, in the years since his first-team breakthrough way back in 1998, the 32-year-old has been the keystone to Liverpool’s cup successes, inspiring them to Champions League glory and wins on the domestic front, including a typically memorable captain’s display against West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup final.
Few football fans, let alone Liverpool supporters would forget such inspirational displays. But with the current plight Liverpool are in, historical sentiment must be disregarded.
It is important, at this juncture to remember the old adage, ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’, so often true down the years.
But there are signs to suggest that the class Gerrard has displayed so consistently throughout his career at Liverpool is starting to fade as the legs grow weary and mind becomes less nimble.
Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Stoke was as typical a Liverpool display as you will see in modern times, creating several chances and dominating possession, but unable to break down Tony Pulis’ resolute side.
And when the side inevitably turned to their talisman for a much-needed injection of inspiration, Gerrard, as he so often has been this season, was found lacking.
There were glimpses of his old self – that ability to stretch play by pinging a quick, beautifully accurate pass ahead of a team-mate.
But such glimpses were all too fleeting, lost amidst a passing inaccuracy that has blighted and undermined Gerrard’s performances in this albeit fledgling domestic campaign.
The situation is not helped either by Brendan Rodgers having a plethora of midfield talent, waiting in the wings behind Gerrard.
The metronomic Joe Allen showed his captain the way once more, attempting 69 passes of which 91% found their target, a statistic all the more resounding in comparison to Gerrard’s own meagre figures of 73%.
Such a statistic would be dismissed, almost scoffed at in many other teams, but the philosophy that Brendan Rodgers is slowly but surely integrating at Anfield demands precision and an ability to monopolise and control possession.
Bearing that in mind, the differentiation between Allen’s and Gerrard’s passing statistics will be a factor at the forefront of the Ulsterman’s mind.
So where does he go from here? It is a conundrum that could ultimately make or break Liverpool’s season and subsequently, one Rodgers must solve imminently before the damage is too great to repair.
It also represents a balancing act for the former Swansea boss. While keeping the iconic skipper in the team could damage the club’s progress this season, dropping Gerrard in favour of less experienced personnel would damage his credibility with the faithful Kop.
The waiting game could prove beneficial to the team. After all, this would not be the first time, Steven Gerrard has been written off and responded the only way he knows how – by upping his game.
But with the signs looming larger with each passing game that the Gerrard influence is waning, Rodgers must instead look to the future.
The likes of Jonjo Shelvey, Lucas Leiva, Nuri Sahin and Joe Allen form a potentially destructive midfield, packed full of solidity, fluidity and creativity; three aspects Liverpool are sorely missing right now.
And as well as providing those three crucial ingredients, such personnel can offer something that even Gerrard cannot – longevity.
The England midfielder, like Ferdinand, is in the twilight of his career now, whether fans care to acknowledge it or not and no man will be better aware of that than the fastidious Rodgers.
He may be in charge of one of the world’s most famous clubs. He may have at his disposal one of the club’s greatest ever players.
But Brendan Rodgers’ managerial duty is to bring the glory days back to Anfield. He must now decide whether he is willing to risk popularity and sacrifice sentiment to achieve that.
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