Steven Gerrard: Liverpool Captain Approaching Best Form in Deeper Midfield Role
Liverpool got 2013 off to the best possible start with a convincing 3-0 win over Sunderland thanks to one goal from Raheem Sterling and two from Luis Suarez. But the main orchestrator of the victory was playing about 30 metres behind the duo for most of the game.
Steven Gerrard was back to something like his very best in this match, and his form has been on a general upward trend over the past month, much like that of the team in general.
While much of his Liverpool career has been spent in full-on attack mode at the highest point of the midfield, or else deployed in a free-roaming wider role, Gerrard has operated this season from a central midfield position alongside the holding midfielder.
Against Sunderland, Gerrard was once more played deep and central but with ample licence to roam the length of the pitch between the two penalty boxes to dictate play and control the tempo of his team's performance.
The captain delivered a top-class performance and it might not be too much to suggest that Brendan Rodgers has found the position for Gerrard to extend his influence on the team over another couple of seasons yet.
With one midfielder holding (Lucas) behind him and protecting the defence, and another (Jordan Henderson) playing the energetic but attack-minded role ahead, Gerrard was free to play somewhere in between the two and consistently turn possession over.
Not being restricted to one area of the pitch completely suited him, though; he was as likely to be seen picking up the ball up off his centre-backs as laying the ball off for a shot on the edge of the Sunderland penalty area.
Gerrard was once more the most active player in the Liverpool team, topping the statistics for number of touches (103) and passes made (88)—but more importantly, he was not only efficient but also highly effective with them.
He completed a thoroughly impressive 92 percent of his passes against the Black Cats, way above his season average of 86 percent, and made seven key passes during the match, more than anyone else on the pitch.
Two assists, 13 accurate long passes from 16 attempts and two tackles topped off an almost perfect performance from the skipper, who only missed out on a goal to top things off.
Even so, Gerrard was heavily involved in all three Liverpool goals, as he won the original header for the opener, showed great anticipation to predict the loose ball and then free Suarez down the channel for the second...and then there was the third goal.
In what was reminiscent of Gerrard at his finest, putting the ball on a plate from range for Fernando Torres or Michael Owen to finish off, the Reds' No. 8 produced perhaps the pass of the season for Suarez's third.
The control from the Uruguayan should not be ignored, nor the off-the-ball run from Stewart Downing, but the execution and vision from Gerrard was of the very highest calibre.
Liverpool have been desperate for more firepower in the final third and for several months it has been questioned why Steven Gerrard had not been pushed farther forward, with his goals record an impressive option for the the Reds to have.
Lately though, he has shown he can still contribute to this area from midfield, but more importantly, he is beginning to dictate the play in a big way again.
If Daniel Sturridge can add to the goals Luis Suarez is already hitting on a regular basis and Gerrard can carry on exploiting space from deep, then the Reds might suddenly be a lot closer to finding a winning formula than they were two months ago.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com
Steven Gerrard's pass for Luis Suarez's goal for 3-0 comes at 2:00 on the video.
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