Steven Gerrard makes timely return for Liverpool and England

Steven Gerrard marked his first Liverpool start in seven months with a goal against Manchester United, and although it was not enough to hand Kenny Dalglish three points over his old adversary Sir Alex Ferguson and boost the Reds’ outside hopes of snatching the Premier League crown from their eternal rivals, Gerrard’s return to prominence comes at an opportune time for both club and country. Gerrard’s effect on Saturday was evident, but, in the wake of Wayne Rooney’s Euro 2012 suspension, England and Fabio Capello could equally benefit.

Gerrard, contributing what Sky Sports commentator Ray Wilkins declared a man of the match performance, again showed that he can rise to the biggest occasion when the moment demands. With the game precariously balanced as a goalless draw, Gerrard’s 20-yard free-kick carried only slightly less pressure than a penalty, considering the importance of the game to Liverpool’s supporters. For a player of Gerrard’s ability, a set-piece from so close to the goal is always an excellent goal scoring opportunity, one of the few Gerrard had in the 90 minutes, albeit compounded by the disintegration of the Manchester United wall. It is that deadly accuracy, however, both from free-kicks and passes in open play, that helps render Gerrard a valuable commodity.

Much discussion over the summer, during Liverpool’s spending spree, was where Gerrard would possibly fit in the team amongst the host of players signed by Dalglish. The role of playmaker seemed set for Charlie Adam, the nominal right-sided midfielder for Jordan Henderson and the support striker for January signing Luis Suarez. However, none of the aforementioned players are capable of playing each of those roles, and the same versatility that ensured Gerrard would always be at the forefront of Dalglish’s mind is the same quality that could prove valuable during Euro 2012.

Gerrard’s versatility and ability to slot into a number of roles in Capello’s current England system makes him, fitness permitting, a guaranteed inclusion in next summer’s travelling party. Gerrard could effectively play the Jack Wilshere-role as a deep playmaker, the ball-winning position currently occupied by Scott Parker or the support striker role that the suspended Rooney usually takes up. With the England Coach limited to only 22 outfield players, naming a group that contains such versatility could be a potent weapon in Capello’s arsenal. The flexibility to shift formations and tactics from one game to the next, or even during a game itself, could be the difference between glory and inglorious failure.

Perhaps the most encouraging outcome of Gerrard’s return is that the 31-year-old played the full 90 minutes without aggravating the groin injury that delayed the start to his season, despite having only three substitute appearances under his belt since March. With a great deal of football still to be played between now and June, Gerrard has ample time to remind Capello of his abilities and regain his place in the England XI, and proved against United that the most difficult challenges are the ones he relishes the most.

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