There’s a buzz circling Liverpool right now as the return of Steven Gerrard edges ever closer. It is staggering to think our inspirational captain has been out for over six months, yet pleasing to know the side has hardly crumbled in his absence. This season the reds are better equipped to cope with such a huge void, something greater depth allows.
Nevertheless Gerrard remains the main man at LFC, a status gained courtesy of a quite astonishing career. His comeback is bound to stir excitement and enhance expectations but an air of caution must accompany such thoughts.
As has been evidenced in the form of Andy Carroll and Glen Johnson, rushing a player back can prove detrimental. Carroll appears cumbersome of late and a far cry from the player who excelled at the start of last season. Many reasons have been touted to explain his current state but his general fitness has never recovered from the thigh injury sustained in January. Kenny Dalglish has even conceded he pitched his £35 million recruit back into action too soon and regrets that punt.
Johnson meanwhile made a brief appearance against Stoke only to be curtailed by a repeat of his hamstring woes. His frustration, typically vented on twitter, is shared by all supporters.
Given the length and severity of Gerrard’s injury Liverpool cannot afford such risks in his case. The skipper only returned to full training last week and came though his first game behind closed doors on Monday. His re-introduction should be gentle, particularly with games against Manchester United and Everton around the corner.
Speculation is rife he will feature in some capacity against Spurs this weekend but I find that unlikely. He may represent an option in extreme circumstances from the bench but his probable bow will come at Brighton on Wednesday. Even then we should expect no more than maybe an hour, with our main concern being his build-up of fitness.
As frustrating as it may prove for player and fans alike Gerrard will require his own version of a pre-season. It is unrealistic to believe he can be thrust straight into the mix and dominate games as is his way. Having said that, anyone questioning whether he will indeed recapture his past form is deluded.
Groin trouble has been the bane of Stevie’s career right from the outset. This operation, we are reliably informed, has cured a long-standing problem and restored that area to its maximum state. This will help Stevie, mentally as much as anything, encouraging him to push his body like never before.
Another trail of thought is that at 31 his powers will now wane and he may need to curb his explosive style in preference for a holding role. This is merely an example of ‘experts’ writing players off in search of headlines. For them 30 signals the twighlight of a career, particularly those of midfielders. However any adjustments will be made two, maybe three years down the line – not at 31.
Frank Lampard is still filling his customary role for Chelsea and England at 33, with no obvious loss of powers (or weight). And unlike Lampard, Gerrard has the attributes to adapt his game when needed.
We saw him play a more disciplined role in his last competitive appearance against United in March. His passing and tackling ability allow him to dictate games just as effectively from that area as higher up the field. That is because Stevie is the complete footballer, the best midfielder of his generation. Ironically that has actually counted against him at times, with certain managers feeling they can exploit his versatility to enable others to play in their favoured positions. But with age Gerrard’s natural class will add years to his career.
For now he can continue to tear-up defences in his traditional manner, and a potential link-up with Luis Suarez whets the appetite like Abbey Clancy modelling her latest bikini. In the future, when circumstances dictate, he will adjust his game accordingly, as his hero John Barnes did so effortlessly.
As highlighted earlier the team have coped with Gerrard’s absence extremely well. In years gone by this situation may have crippled the club but Dalglish handled the scenario masterfully. Initially he blooded youngsters like Jay Spearing to great effect, while also conjuring the best out players like Lucas and Maxi. Then with the summer upon us The King added quality to the ranks, compensating for any injuries within his squad. Both his man-management and eye for a player have shone through here.
A decent start to the season was obviously hampered by the defeat at Stoke but that game still served-up plenty of positives. The reds were completely dominant and should have been awarded two penalties themselves. Wasteful finishing, in addition to diabolical officiating, ultimately cost us dear but at least we are imposing ourselves at such grounds. In the past Liverpool would travel to the Britannia stadium and look to counter-attack, yet on Saturday we set the agenda ourselves and were very unfortunate.
A trip to White Hart Lane is never easy but Sunday’s game will be far more open than last weekend, where Stoke understandably defended their fortuitous lead. Tottenham will come at us from the off and our defence will have to up their game, but both Manchester clubs have proven Spurs are far from resolute themselves. If we are able to control possession, as we did at both the Emirates and Britannia, there is no reason why we cannot make it six points from six in North London this term.
That would transform a decent start into a very good one and set us up nicely for the return of a certain someone…