It’s a question that most Reds’ fans wouldn’t even dare to contemplate.
But after Steven Gerrard’s abject display against Aston Villa at the weekend (in fairness he wasn’t alone), evidence is beginning to mount that the Liverpool captain could be better suited to a more peripheral role.
After all, Liverpool’s best performance of the season (the 5-0 victory over Spurs) arrived when Gerrard was out injured – leaving a midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson to play with intelligence and (in the case of the latter two) a genuine energy that unsettled the opposition.
It was a midfield line-up that was more akin to Brendan Rodgers’ long term philosophy. There’s no doubt that with Gerrard in the side, his presence unhinges the balance of the midfield. While his expertise from a dead ball cannot be questioned, it feels like Rodgers is accommodating Gerrard at the cost of team’s equilibrium. Even during Liverpool’s 5-3 success over Stoke, Lucas (a player moulded to play as a holding midfielder), was overlooked in favour of Gerrard with the Brazilian asked to play slightly further forward.
The problem for Gerrard, Rodgers and Liverpool right now is thus; where exactly is his best position?
The truth is, I’m not sure anyone knows. Gerrard’s days of impulsively marauding forward as a box-to-box midfielder or second striker are behind him. You only need to see that Gerrard’s last goal from open play came almost a year ago to realise that.
Rodgers has earmarked that the holding role (or the pivot) could be one position that may prolong Gerrard’s career. But if his first half display against Aston Villa is anything to go by (even if you could argue he wasn’t a pivot as such) then it doesn’t look too promising.
Perhaps Gerrard’s downfall is his discipline. There’s never been any question that there aren’t many players who can produce a long, raking cross-field ball like Gerrard. His driven pass to Luis Suarez at the weekend was another fine example of his quality. But if you’ve watched Liverpool intently over Gerrard’s career then you’ll know that the skipper can try the spectacular a little too often.
And, if you want to become a midfield “controller”, discipline in your distribution is vital. Your role is to protect, recover and play with simplicity. Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets is the best in the world in that role but he rarely gets the adulation that his midfield colleagues Xavi and Andres Iniesta get because his role is less spectacular. There are very little mazy dribbles or delicious through balls.
Can Gerrard be less spectacular? Maybe. He certainly has the ability to adapt his game. Whether he has the temperament and maturity to do so is another matter. There’s just something about the Gerrard DNA that prompts him to attempt a game-changing moment. And who can blame him? He’s done it often enough over the years.So much so that it’s hard to argue against Gerrard’s legacy as potentially Liverpool’s greatest ever player.
But right now Rodgers may have to put Gerrard’s legacy to one side if he is to get the very most out of his midfield. If that means benching the Liverpool skipper – or providing him with a “reduced” role – then so be it. It would be a massive decision but one that Rodgers has to face-up at some stage.
Unfortunately for Liverpool, Steven Gerrard won’t go on forever. He may be Anfield’s finest exponent but no individual is greater than the collective.