Energetic, robust, athletic, determined, classy, superb, inspirational. Very soon the English dictionary is going to have to manifest a new a group of superlatives to describe Steven Gerrard, surely the best Liverpool player since Kenny Dalglish. The club captain is in fact so good that even on an off day he remains his teams shining light, invariably collecting the man-of-the-match accolade. Why then, when a player boasts a talent as rare as Gerrard’s, do critics bemoan his positioning? Rafael Benitez has endured unwarranted skepticism from such quarters in recent weeks as regard to this matter. Judging by Wednesday and Saturday’s proceedings however, he could yet have the last laugh.
Make no bones about it, ‘˜Stevie-G’ could line-up alongside Jamie Carragher at centre-back, replace John Arne Riise at left-back and even dislodge Pepe Reina in goal whilst still being the reds’ best performer. The Whiston born superstar is as inspired as David Hasselhoff is whilst looking in the mirror when it comes to representing LFC. Such is his commitment to the cause, he will take the game by the scruff of the neck whoever the opponent and whatever the occasion. This enthusiasm will come to the fore wherever Benitez’ opts to play him, rubbing off on his team mates accordingly.
Saturday’s victory was no exception. Again selected ‘˜out of position’, this time on the right-side of a midfield quartet, Gerrard provided the foundations for a valuable home success. It was his burst of pace and driven cross which carved out the opener for Mark Gonzales. It was his run, albeit an offside one, which tempted Luis Garcia to slide-in Dirk Kuyt to thrash home the vital second. Admittedly, he played no part whatsoever in John Arne Riise’s blockbuster, but no doubt the Norwegian has taken a few tips from his skipper at Melwood when it comes to those astonishing piledrivers of his.
Much of Liverpool’s recent achievement stems from the centre of the park. The manager has always relied upon a settled yet capable holding pair in this area. When bossing Valencia, this duty was usually charged to both David Albelda and Ruben Baraja. At Anfield, it is the duty of Momo Sissoko and Xabi Alonso. Sure, it can be and is lamented by many that this frustratingly muscles Gerrard from his preferred role. Nevertheless, one look at last season’s defensive record will be enough to convince many. The reds were as tight as Rick Waller in a waist-coat when it came to conceding goals, this courtesy of the protection provided by Sissoko and Alonso. Meanwhile, a quick glance at the number 8s goal-scoring exploits last term also highlight how devastating he can be when given license to roam. Safe-guarded by that duo, the England midfielder banged in a frightening 23 strikes.
For all his qualities in such various positions, Steven Gerrard is at his absolute best when steaming forward. Gerrard knows that, Benitez knows that and Tottenham‘s Benoit Assou-Ekotto knows that. Therefore, why vilify Rafa?
Changes to the first eleven are now as vast as Elton John’s wig collection, but there is thinking behind this trait also. Imagine how gutted Robbie Fowler and his legion of fans must be at present. The Toxeth-Terrior has been excluded from five of the last six squads. It has not been a case of bad form that’s contributed to this sudden exile, just a fact that the manager picks those he feels best suited to defeat a particular opposition. Against Spurs he felt that Kuyt and Craig Bellamy were the two to secure three points. He was right. He also believed it was an encounter where Sami Hyypia could return to the side and do a job. He was right.
At the Mestalla, Benitez only maintained the same eleven for two successive games once in three years and won two titles. The Spaniard knows what he is doing in this respect, as he does with his skipper. Thus, belief is essential; number 19 might not be out of the question after all.