Successive defeats to Stoke City and then, in embarrassing circumstances, Tottenham Hotspur, have not so much set-off panic alarms at Anfield, but have almost certainly dampened the early season optimism that had engulfed the football club.
The opening day draw with Sunderland was labelled merely as a blip, as Liverpool produced a fine first-half, only to run out of steam in the second. When Arsenal and Bolton were overcome with consummate ease, things looked good for Kenny Dalglish’s men, although the form of both Arsenal and Bolton since has put those results into context.
After falling to a disputed Jonathan Walters penalty at Stoke, the manner of the reds’ performance still gave hope, with the visitors dominating the majority of the game. But, the defeat at White Hart Lane on Sunday was different. Liverpool were beaten by four and it could and maybe should, have been alot more. The reds were overrun in midfield, shaky defensively, toothless up front and blighted by ill-discipline. A more pressing concern was that the team looked rudderless, as Spurs dominated the game, no-one in a red shirt stepped up to the challenge.
A trip to the impressive new Amex Stadium to face Gus Poyet’s Championship high-fliers Brighton awaits on Wednesday. After that, a run of tough league games begins; Wolves at home, a trip to Goodison Park to face Merseyside rivals Everton, followed by a home game against arch-rivals Manchester United. With these four games vital to shaping the Reds’ season, Liverpool need to recover quickly after their Tottenham debacle. They need a boost. Step forward Steven Gerrard.
Liverpool’s Captain Fantastic has not been seen since March 6th when he was impressive as Manchester United were defeated 3-1. A groin injury forced Gerrard to sit out the remainder of the season. He was expected to be back for the start of this season, but an infection ruled him out of action for a further 6 weeks. Now, Gerrard is back in full training and feeling fitter than ever. Having watched Dalglish re-invigorate the club, the prospect of linking up with the likes of Luis Suarez, Andy Carroll et al, has Gerrard licking his lips.
But, amazingly, the impending return of the reds’ inspirational skipper doesn’t get all Kopites excited. A lengthy spell on the sidelines often results in a player’s ability being over-exaggerated as fans remember his good bits and dismiss his negatives. When Alberto Aquilani arrived from AS Roma and headed straight for the Melwood treatment table, every day that passed as the Anfield faithful waited to see their new signing, resulted in the Italian’s stock ever-improving. His greatest moments were replayed on YouTube, with people proclaiming him as good as the departed Xabi Alonso. When he finally did make it onto the pitch, Aquilani had been built up that much that no matter what he did, he was never going to match the expectations placed upon him. The same can be said of Glen Johnson. Often lamented when he wears a red shirt, Johnson’s stock whilst injured has improved, with fans now eager for the full-back to return to fitness. For Gerrard, it is different.
Since he first appeared on the scene fist-pumping after a hat-trick of goal line-clearances in an Anfield derby, he has won virtually everything. A vital member of the Treble winning side of 2001, he later became club captain. He dragged his beloved reds through in the 2005 Champions League game against Olympiacos, before leading the glorious fightback against AC Milan in the final. A year later, he scored twice in the Gerrard FA Cup Final triumph over West Ham. Whenever Liverpool have been in trouble, Gerrard has come up with something brilliant. Whenever Liverpool have been on top, Steven Gerrard has been at the heart of it. In 556 appearances, he has an impressive 140 Liverpool goals. For the last decade he has been amongst the top players in the world, whilst he will go down as one of the finest players in Liverpool’s illustrious history (maybe even the best if he manages to win a League Championship before he hangs up his boots).
Despite all that he has achieved, a spell on the sidelines for Gerrard results in people dismissing, or rather questioning, his talents. Whenever Liverpool win without their captain, the familiar line of “We’re better off without Gerrard” can be heard. Prior to the start of the season, one Liverpool website asked fans to name their preferred starting XI for the coming season. I would have been amazed if just one person had left Gerrard out, but the fact that nearly half did was incredible.
The fact of the matter is that Steven Gerrard has been so good for Liverpool that people take him for granted. His brilliance has become so routine that some don’t even class it as brilliance any more.
Yes, by his standards he suffered a dip in form last season, but now refreshed and in his words “stronger than ever”, even at the age of 31 and despite the merits of superb striker Luis Suarez, Gerrard should still be the first name on the Liverpool teamsheet. Where does he fit in to the current team fans ask? In truth, Gerrard could play anywhere and still be the best player on the pitch. For me, he would be best suited either starting on the right of midfield with a license to wander where he wants, or play just off Suarez in a role similar to the one he played with Fernando Torres. And you only have to look at Torres’ form at Chelsea to understand how effective Gerrard was from there.
After two successive league defeats, Liverpool now embark on a period crucial to the remainder of their season. Alot of things may have changed at Anfield over the past 12 months, but some things never will. With their backs against the wall, the Reds will once again look to their inspirational skipper. Cometh the hour, Cometh the man.