Over the last decade Steven Gerrard and Liverpool have become synonymous. The reception the former received as he continued his rehabilitation against Wolves only bolsters such a theory, but now Kenny Dalglish must figure out how to re-incorporate the club’s captain back into his line-up.
The last game the 31-year-old started for Liverpool was six months ago, in the Luis Suarez-inspired home victory over Manchester United but following the longest lay-off of his career, Gerrard is now available. The club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, have since sanctioned a major facelift of playing staff, a reinvention that was no more prevalent than in the midfield department.
The form produced by the Reds in the tail-end of last season, and at times this season, had suggested that life after Gerrard, which was once unthinkable, had become a more digestible concept. Generally the new midfield recruits – Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing – have been ever-presents, but logic now suggests one will give way. When Andy Carroll has started, Liverpool have for all intents and purposes played a simple 4-4-2; Henderson playing out of position on the right with Dirk Kuyt relegated to the periphery, while Lucas Leiva and Adam have been married in central midfield. However, this is where Gerrard’s vision and authority are best utilised.
Dalglish has also sent Liverpool out in a more flexible and fluid 4-2-3-1, which also suits Gerrard. To adopt this formation, Carroll could still yet be used as the lone striker with Downing, Gerrard, and the influential Suarez making up the supporting trio. This then leaves two spots for Adam, Henderson and Lucas to contest; and Lucas’ rapid progression surely now means he is one of the first names on the team sheet. The second holding role, if you will, appears more suited for the skill set of Adam than that of Henderson. Moreover, questions have been raised over the ex-Blackpool captain’s tackling qualities and as Gerrard approaches his twilight years he may also prefer this deeper lying role. Essentially, there are many permutations for Dalglish to mull over.
When Carroll plays, the main problem for Liverpool is their tendency to harness his aerial ability so fielding a side with natural width seems logical, but none of the players mentioned – barring Downing – are genuine wingers. In pre-season many commentators questioned how Dalglish would integrate all the players he had at his disposal, and temporarily due to injury, it was a discussion which omitted Gerrard.
It would be naive to suggest that the club’s massive outlay in the transfer market was sanctioned without a blueprint from the manager concerning favoured line-ups and formations. However, it now appears there are members of the squad who feel they warrant a starting berth, but will ultimately face a challenge to become regulars. Gerrard still has a massive part to play in the future of his football club and Dalglish faces a dilemma in deciding whose place his talismanic captain takes.
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