Reds boss Brendan Rodgers and striker Rickie Lambert have defended captain Steven Gerrard amidst mounting criticism of his form…
The reasons behind Liverpool’s worse start to a season since 1992-93 have understandably been the source of much analysis and debate of late.
A lot of the attention has focused on factors such as manager Brendan Rodgers‘ dogmatic tactical approach, injuries, the number and quality of the summer signings and a failure to cope with the consequences of a return to the Champions League.
But to many observers the underlying issue, which has contributed to four straight defeats, is simply the form and confidence of the players; not one of the club’s highly-paid stars can claim to be at the top of their game right now.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and defenders Dejan Lovren and Glen Johnson, perhaps understandably given the amount and nature of goals being conceded, seem to be the target of most of the wrath.
However, there are also a growing number of supporters and pundits suggesting that it may be time for the previously unthinkable; dropping the iconic Steven Gerrard.
The 34-year-old retired from international duty in the summer to focus on prolonging his career but so far it hasn’t had much of a reinvigorating effect.
Since his infamous and costly slip against Chelsea at the tail end of last season, Gerrard has failed to influence games in the manner we are all accustomed and has often cut a forlorn figure.
Consequently there are an increasing number of people suggesting it might be the beginning of the end for one of the Premier League’s greatest ever players.
Even those who still believe the one-club man has something to offer his beloved Reds, such as former team mate Jamie Carragher, feel the midfielder needs to be moved away from the deep-lying position he’s been occupying for the past year or so.
Commenting on the matter in the build-up to tonight’s crucial Champions League game with Ludogorets Razgrad, Rodgers maintained the skipper remains vital to his plans.
“He’s a wonderful player,” remarked the Northern Irishman. “I can safely say he’s the best player I’ve ever worked with – his mentality, commitment and loyalty he’s shown the football club has been incredible.
“I’ve shown in my time here as manager that I don’t deal in sentiment. There is nothing sentimental about me picking Steven.
“I judge him on what I see on the training field. I see the influence he has with the other players.
“Of course he’s coming to the latter part of his career but he still has a big contribution to make for me.
“He can play three games a week but not to the level he would like or I would like so it’s up to me to manage that.
“It’s fairly easy to manage because he’s such a top class professional player. He accepts what’s best for Liverpool. He knows that every decision is in the best interests of the club.”
Further support for Gerrard came from striker Rickie Lambert, who scored his first goal since rejoining the Merseysiders from Southampton in Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace.
The 32-year-old, who will again be handed a start in Bulgaria, said: “I have seen a few bits about Steven and I find it shocking, to be honest.
“If he has a bad game, other people have to stand up. I just don’t understand it. We see what he does for Liverpool every single day, he is a great example to us all.”
Out of contract at the end of the current campaign, Gerrard’s situation probably isn’t helped by continued uncertainty over his future.
If a new deal isn’t agreed in the coming weeks, he can sign a pre-contact for next season with foreign clubs from January.
To even think negative thoughts about Gerrard is the footballing equivalent of blasphemy for Liverpool fans but unfortunately it is totally understandable to see his position under scrutiny at present. Recent performances have been well below par by normal standards, let alone his own imperious ones, and something has to be done to get the team back on track. Personally I don’t think he’s been bad enough to warrant dropping but I wholeheartedly support the need for a change in role. Having Gerrard deeper worked last season as he had time on the ball and players in front of him to keep the opposition preoccupied through pace and movement. That’s not the case this year with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge missing and opponents figuring out how to combat the system. The case for bringing Lucas Leiva back into the defensive midfield position is increased further by the need to add greater protection to our leaky defence. In terms of the future, I would loath to see Gerrard playing for someone else and as long as he accepts that he is no longer a guaranteed starter then a new deal still seems a no-brainer, particularly if it means he starts to get involved in other areas of the club such as coaching, mentoring or being an ambassador.
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