Aaron Cutler discusses the continual influence of Liverpool veterans Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.
Following the debacle at Oldham, Liverpool this week restored pride with two impressive performances. Taking a point from both The Emirates and Etihad stadium is no mean feat. The results themselves meanwhile hardly do justice to the Reds’ domination on both occasions. The nature of our Cup exit demanded a response and Brendan Rodgers certainly received one, with courageous displays across the board. From the intensity of Jordan Henderson, the movement of Daniel Sturridge and the artistry of Luis Suarez, his team reacted like a group scorned and eager to prove a point.
That they did was of course a collective effort and one which promises much going forward. However, the standout contributions came courtesy of two very familiar sources. Whatever transpires between now and the end of their careers, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard will go down as two of the greatest figures in our history. Legends in every sense of the word they have experienced ecstasy, heartbreak and everything between those extremes – together, and at the same club.
At 35 and 32 respectively, Carragher and Gerrard are supposedly winding down, yet this week rolled back the years and underlined their eternal importance to this current crop of Liverpool stars.
In many ways this double act have been perfect foils. Carra is essentially a captain in all but name. His leadership qualities bring a degree of stability to the back four. Barking out instructions and organising those around him, he brings much needed authority to a rearguard which can look fragile at the best of times.
Stevie on the other hand has always led by example. Far more understated than his great friend, he allows his football to do the talking with that all-action, inspired style which has become his trademark and made him the greatest player of his generation.
Both have faced their fair share of criticism this term but when the chips are down they invariably stand-up and deliver. On both Wednesday and Sunday they did just that.
Carragher The Warrior
Carragher’s restoration to the starting line-up has proven totally justified. A kamikaze defensive showing at Boundary Park exposed a lack of leadership and physical presence at the heart of our backline. Martin Skrtel, for all his qualities, can often be drawn into rash challenges and loses focus far too easily. Required to command those around him last weekend he was found painfully wanting and ultimately paid the cost with exclusion at Arsenal.
To their eternal shame, many supporters lambasted Carra’s inclusion at the Slovak’s expense, insisting his very presence would spell automatic defeat. Forgetting his positional sense, know-how and experience such critics were duly shown-up with a man of the match performance.
Always prepared to put his body on the line, Carragher took a second half Lukas Podolski drive full in the stomach only to stay on his feet until the ball was cleared. That one moment typified his career. 723 appearances into his Liverpool love affair he still sweats blood for the cause and gives all of himself to protect a clean sheet. A warrior; he tackled, blocked and headed everything The Gunners threw his way in vintage fashion. Plaudits flowed at full time, including a glowing reference from his boss.
“I can’t speak highly enough of him, both as a professional football player and as a human being” said Rodgers. “Carra is a guy who was one of the top defenders in European football for five or six years. Maybe in the last 18 months he hasn’t played as much as he would have liked, but it got to a point with me watching him in training every day and in games where I couldn’t leave him out.”
Confirming he would retain his place for the weekend trip to Manchester, Rodgers again entrusted his veteran defender to rally the troops. Still questions were raised – Can he play two games in a week? How can he stop Aguero? The response was emphatic. Yet another towering shift helped earn the Reds a draw, the very least they deserved. Our tendency to hit self-destruct against the Champions cost us two valuable points but Carragher could not be faulted for either goal. Instead he lead from the front and helped restrict Messers Aguero and Dzeko to precious little.
New Deal for Carragher
At 35, Carra is by no means the future but the fact is he remains crucial to our short term plans. At this moment he outranks both Skrtel and Sebastian Coates, which is a great testament to his hunger and enduring ability. On the flipside it is also a worry for Rodgers who must surely bolster his defence with a summer acquisition – or two. Equally important however is rewarding Carra with a new deal.
Debate rages as to whether the Bootle born stalwart will extend his Anfield career into an eighteenth campaign. Sentiment aside, he deserves a contract renewal on merit. This week has not been a last hurrah. Think back to Stamford Bridge in November when he was drafted in for the injured Skrtel. Not only did he defend stoically, he earned an assist by heading onto Luis Suarez at the far post. He put in a similarly solid showing against Norwich at home a fortnight ago. Consider this also, our win percentage with Carra this season is a respectable 58%, without him that drops to 15%. He still exerts huge influence on his teammates and is far more than a symbolic nod to the past.
His presence and experience is invaluable both on and off the field. He will never start thirty games a season again but he can always be called upon to shore-up that back four when needed. Liverpool allowed Sami Hyypia to leave far too easily in 2009; they cannot allow the same to happen with his long-time partner. Injuries, suspension and loss of form will always arise, and who better to draft in than our finest defender since Alan Hansen? And I’m not talking about Djimi Traore.
Gerrard back to his best
[sws_pullquote_right] Gerrard has played every minute of every League game so far this season and has the joint most assists in the Premier League (9, alongside Juan Mata and Lukas Podolski). [/sws_pullquote_right]In midfield, Gerrard has been outstanding since early December. Whether he has finally shaken off the after-effects of injury or simply grown accustomed to Rodgers set-up, the skipper has found his best form since the end of 2008/09. Sunday’s stunning strike was his eighth of the season, to supplement eleven assists (all comps.). Not bad for a player supposedly past it. The nine Premier League goals he has assisted matches his previous best.
England’s Player of the Year, he has definitely been helped by the winner of the U21 equivalent – Jordan Henderson. The latter is fast developing into the player we hoped to have signed from Sunderland. His work-rate and energy levels not only channel the effervescent Dirk Kuyt but are proving vital to our pressing game. Hounding the opposition in a bid to win back possession in an instant, Henderson does the dirty work – allowing Gerard to conserve his energy. In some ways, this harkens back to Stevie’s own youth when he and the likes of Danny Murphy buzzed around the majesty of Gary McAllister.
Sat between Henderson and Lucas, the captain is afforded space and protection to both launch attacks with a raking pass and support the frontline as was his tendency under Rafa Benitez. Having more of a physical presence around him has enabled Gerrard to contribute higher up the field. It is no coincidence that his game has come on considerably since Joe Allen lost his place in the side.
As with Carragher, Rodgers has been quick to praise his captain in the press – he loves a sound bite after all. “This is a top, top player who gives so much quality but also enthusiasm. At 32 years of age, he still looks so fit, so strong and you can see his influence on the team. When he came on at Oldham it was like someone had dropped him from heaven into the game.”
A fitting analogy as we have been truly blessed to experience Steven Gerrard at LFC. A once in a lifetime player he is perhaps the best to ever don the red shirt and continues to add to his legend with moments such as that at Eastlands.
Between them Gerrard and Carragher have seen and done it all. It is hard to imagine their rise from Academy Graduates to European Champions ever being emulated. Only when they retire will their true greatness be realised. That time, apparently, remains some way off. Moreover, if this week is anything to go by they intend to write a few more chapters yet..