December was a testing time for Liverpool, especially without Steven Gerrard. TheHardTackle makes an assessment of the Liverpool midfield minus their influential skipper.
It is safe to say that December was a bizarre month for Liverpool. First, there was the bad news about one of the`SAS’ partnership being sidelined for a month. After that, came the abysmal performance against Hull which led many people to question Liverpool`s top 4 credentials. Luis Suarez`s contract extension drew cheers from the Red side of Merseyside and his pyrotechnics against Norwich, West Ham and Cardiff showed once again why the Uruguayan is so highly valued and loved by the Anfield faithful. After Gerrard`s hamstring snapped in the West Ham game, Liverpool were tipped to struggle in the latter stages of December, especially without Daniel Sturridge and Jose Enrique. The game at White Hart Lane was a litmus test of how Liverpool would perform without their talismanic captain and the rest as they say, is history. `The Liverpool midfield was terrific and showed tremendous character’ (as Brendan Rodgers would say), which led them to the top of the premiership at Christmas. They eventually dropped down to fifth after losing two high intensity games away at Manchester City and Chelsea. The Reds were unfortunate to lose at the Etihad and looked knackered in the loss to Chelsea. With most of the reverse fixtures against the big sides to be played at Anfield and potential new recruits in January coupled with the imminent return of Sturridge, the Liverpool fans can surely be optimistic about a top four finish this term.
Liverpool`s midfield without Gerrard.
Any Liverpudlian would love to see Steven Gerrard play forever, but sadly, that will never happen. Sure, Gerrard may play up to his early forties but he will never be the charismatic, box to box midfielder he once was. Brendan Rodgers, to his credit, has made use of Gerrard very well every since he began his reign at Anfield. Gerrard has been utilized as a deep lying midfielder, orchestrating the play and feeding the likes of Coutinho, Suarez and Henderson, who are a constant headache to the opposition with their dizzying runs. Naturally, his absence would`ve concerned many, but it was sort of a blessing in disguise to see if the current Liverpool midfielders could perform without Gerrard.
The game against Tottenham was an example of total team effort and complete control of the midfield area by the Liverpool players, minus Gerrard. After a shaky start, the Liverpool midfield was in a league of its own. The Tottenham players were harried in every part of the pitch through Liverpool`s relentless pressing to gain possession of the ball. Jordan Henderson, in particular, was very impressive at White Hart Lane, menacing the North Londoners with his powerful runs, and pulling the strings from midfield. He has metamorphosed his game to a whole new dimension this season and his telepathic understanding with Suarez and Coutinho has simply got better and better.Henderson`s desire and ability to make those lung-bursting runs creates space for his team-mates to make in-roads in the opposition defense.
Liverpool`s number 14 has also improved his passing range to such an extent that, at times, it looked as if Gerrard was in midfield dictating play. The assist to Suarez`s first goal against Cardiff at Anfield also showed his awareness around the penalty area. For a man who was criticized about making only ‘simple passes’ till the start of this season, Henderson has come a long way in proving his doubters wrong. He has conjured up 38 chances and 5 assists till date.
The ex-Sunderland man`s athleticism and his desire to run from box to box is reminiscent of a young Steven Gerrard, and if he can improve his conversion rate and goals tally, he will no doubt be considered as a future replacement for the current Liverpool skipper.
Liverpool`s little Brazilian.
Phillipe Coutinho is one of those players who will keep you enthralled throughout the game. The Brazilian`s close control and dribbling abilities makes him very pleasing on the eye, and his amazing ability to pick out a decisive pass to create goal scoring opportunities is second to none in the current Liverpool squad. Sure, the weight of his passes have been slightly over-hit in the past few games, but that was the only minor blemish in his last few outings for the reds.
Coutinho`s goal tally has to improve as well and it is bound to improve if he sorts out his shooting, which has been off radar this season, which is baffling because he was a proficient futsal player in his younger days, and a good one at that. Coutinho has been the floater in the Liverpool side, he usually plays just off the striker, but is not at all hesitant to move to either flank to support the attacking play or maybe even initiate it. He has combined well with Sterling and Henderson, and the attacking trio, along with the mercurial Suarez has kept the opposition guessing at all times.
Raheem Sterling: A rejuvenated force for Liverpool
Sterling has progressed very well at Anfield since his meteoric rise to the first team last season. After a disappointing start to this term, Sterling has flourished in the Liverpool set up, especially after the injury to Daniel Sturridge and the indifferent form of Victor Moses. Brendan Rodgers has used Sterling as a wide player in the 4-2-3-1 or the 4-3-3 formation, switching positions with Henderson or Coutinho when needed. The most impressive part of Sterling`s game in the last few matches is his well timed runs and his constant pressing to win back possession.
The game against Tottenham was Sterling`s best of the season so far and he gave a torrid time to the Spurs` fullbacks on the right flank. Liverpool was constantly looking to hit Tottenham on the break and Sterling, with his quick pace, played a vital role. His runs forward were proving to be a nuisance for the Spurs defense, as they failed to cover the gap created by his bursts forward. He didn’t play as an out an out winger, not attempting too many crosses, but rather preferred to move more centrally and make runs into the box. Sterling looked very confident on the field, and has cemented his position in the starting eleven. (Till Sturridge returns, of course)
Gerrard`s future role.
Rodgers has talked about playing Steven Gerrard as a centre-half in the latter stages of the skipper`s thirties. With Gerrard`s tactical awareness of the game and his passing abilities, he has all the ingredients to excel as a centre- half. It
will obviously depend on Gerrard`s preference, whether or not he wants to play at that position and also the availability of quality central midfielders at that time. Jordan Henderson, at the moment, looks like he can step into Gerrard`s shoes and if he continues to develop his overall play, he can fill the void in midfield left behind by the Reds` skipper.