Despite insisting that he is not angry with Brendan Rodgers, Steven Gerrard has every right to be upset with the Liverpool boss – because he has been playing him out of position.
Liverpool legend Gerrard has recently agreed to join MLS side LA Galaxy citing lack of first-team appearances as the main reason for his shock Anfield exit.
The former England captain revealed on Saturday that Rodgers had told him earlier this season that he would not feature as much for the Red this year – a conversation he described as being “tough” to have.
Not fast enough
But my issue with Rodgers’ standpoint on Gerrard is that he is not using him to the best of his abilities as he has been deploying him a deeper more defensive role over the last 18 months.
And he has cited Gerrard’s downturn in pace as the reason for shoehorning him into that role – but it is nigh on impossible for a player in that position to offer true support for a back four if they do not have the pace to cover all of that ground.
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The fast and the defensive
A defensive midfielder can have all the positional awareness in the world but if he doesn’t have the energy or pace to put the tackles in then he will fail in that role. A look at some of the world’s best in that position makes that point categorically.
In the Premier League we have seen Yaya Toure and Wayne Rooney perform admirably in screening their defenders and they are able to cut it in that role because they are fairly quick on their feet – not exactly Usain Bolt no, but quick enough.
And Arturo Vidal, Philipp Lahm and Luka Modric are among some of the quickest players overseas operating in a similar role, and that is why they are in the cream of the crop in that position. Gerrard does not really come close.
Higher up the pitch
But Monday night’s FA Cup victory at Wimbledon truly demonstrated Gerrard’s ability to still pull the strings if he is higher up the pitch and closer to the offensive side of the game.
Yes, he’s lost a yard of pace but he has shown he is still able to find and exploit space – much like Frank Lampard – as well as find the perfect passes.
And don’t forget that when he is deployed just behind the striker there is less onus on him to bust a gut to get back and defend – which naturally makes him less of a liability.
And how about those free kicks?
We’ve already heard plenty of pundits explaining that Gerrard should be offered a new contract at Anfield based on his history with the club – but I do actually disagree with that idea.
A manager cannot expect to see the best in a player because he was among the world’s best five years ago – he has to go on the present.
But it is also a manager’s remit to get the best out of his players and Rodgers’ decision to drop Gerrard into a deeper role has done nothing but get the worst out of him.
The former Swansea boss is right in one sense though, because if he is adamant that Gerrard is now a defensive midfielder then he probably shouldn’t be in the team.
But in spite of this error of team selection Gerrard has still managed to contribute nine goals in 27 appearances in all competitions in a tough campaign when Liverpool desperately need their best to step up to the plate.
In truth it is testament to Gerrard’s character and admirable love and commitment to Liverpool than in spite of all of the off-the-field turmoil he is still pulling his finger when it is desperately needed. That is another quality that Liverpool will sorely miss.
Too little too late
But one can’t help but wonder that, if Rodgers had assessed Gerrard’s worth to the team more astutely, then he would have no choice but keep on starting him.
And if the club legend had been getting the nod higher up the pitch on a regular basis then he may have made the decision to stay.