Amid Liverpool’s mixed start to the Premier League season have come questions regarding the previously untouchable captain, Steven Gerrard. A dominating performance in Saturday’s Merseyside derby would have offered the perfect riposte but despite scoring, the skipper didn’t impose himself as he so often has in the past.
Gerrard began his Reds career as something of a utility man – indeed, his very first Liverpool appearance was as a right-back, while plenty of his subsequent outings were on the right-hand side of midfield. When Gerrard was able to play centrally, he flourished, either behind Fernando Torres or in the centre of midfield.
Brendan Rodgers’ arrival heralded a new dawn and the ageing Gerrard dropped deeper, looking to exert control from just in front of the defence. He did it to great effect last season, helping Liverpool to second place and winning plaudits for his composed displays.
This season, however, Gerrard has been questioned like rarely before. Liverpool appear a far less dangerous proposition – the absence of Luis Suarez the main reason for that – but Gerrard has taken some of the criticism, particularly after Liverpool were beaten by Aston Villa and West Ham in consecutive weeks.
Gerrard has a history of decisive performances in Merseyside derbies. The 34-year-old scored his 10th goal in local skirmishes on Saturday and just a few years ago claimed a hat-trick as a weakened Everton were dispatched with ruthless ease. Gerrard’s latest goal against the Toffees has been used as evidence he is as good as ever, but statistics from EuroFantasyLeague.com suggest that’s not quite the case.
Having been statistically the eighth best midfielder in Europe for 2013-14 – better if the parameters are narrowed further to remove goal scoring wingers such as Arjen Robben and Gareth Bale – Gerrard barely cracks the top 100 for 2014-15. It may still be early but Gerrard has yet to be credited with an assist for any of Liverpool’s eight league goals, whereas last year he created 14 goals, the second-most of any midfielder, behind only Angel Di Maria.
It doesn’t necessarily follow that the reason for the drop off in assists is because Gerrard is on the wane. Liverpool are still finding their groove without Suarez, and Daniel Sturridge, and perhaps once – or if – Mario Balotelli finds his feet, the goals will flow with the help of Gerrard. Time will tell on that front, but Gerrard wouldn’t be the first great player whose years suddenly catch up with him. Maybe those dominant derby performances really are in the past.