LAG: how will Liverpool cope with Life After Gerrard ...?
Sometime soon there will come the inevitable day when Liverpool can no longer call upon the services of their inspirational skipper, Steven Gerrard. However, in many ways the Merseysiders have already begun preparing for life without their Captain Fantastic.
The very first time that Reds supporters were forced to contemplate Life After Gerrard (LAG) came back in the summer of 2004, when the midfield player very nearly joined arch-rivals Chelsea, only for the controversial move to break down at the very last minute.
And then 12 months later it was a case of déjà vu all over again as the England international came within inches of swapping the Reds for the Blues, only to have a late change of heart to everyone’s immense relief at Anfield.
However, eight years after Gerrard’s last flirt with a move away from Merseyside, the club and its fans are now beginning to accept that LAG is fast approaching in the distance, although on this occasion for reasons very different from those in 2004-05.
Back then, it was the Whiston-born player’s own decision to bring an end to his life-long association with the club, whereas whenever the 33-year-old does next decide to say goodbye to the Reds, it will be to signal the end of his playing career.
But over the course of the past two years, Liverpool have already had a taster of what the future will have in store for them when their captain marvel does eventually decide to hang up his boots, with Gerrard having picked up a number of debilitating injuries in that time.
None more so than in October 2011 when the midfield player suffered an ankle infection that very nearly brought a premature end to his career, while Gerrard had also previously missed large parts of that year with a number of niggling groin problems.
And then even last season, when the player was on course to feature in every single minute of every Premier League match for the very first time in his 15-year Reds career, Liverpool were then forced to play their final two top-flight contests of the campaign without Stevie G after the skipper underwent surgery in order to cure a shoulder injury.
So how did manager Brendan Rodgers cope without his main man back in May? Well, the first problem that the Northern Irishman discovered on that occasion, and which he will also do when Gerrard finally departs the building, is that he will not just be replacing one player, but in effect four.
As not only will Liverpool be losing an inspirational leader on the pitch, but as an actual footballer they will also be needing to find a goalscoring midfielder, a diligent defensive-minded holding player and an attack-minded creator.
No easy task then, and one that may require both some new personnel to be brought to Anfield to fill the skipper’s boots, as well as possibly some tweaks to the team’s formation in order to accommodate the loss of such a multifunctional player and the appointment of a new captain to boot.
Some light will actually be shed on that latter issue at the start of next season when Liverpool reveal the identity of Jamie Carragher’s successor as Gerrard’s vice-captain, with Danish central defender Daniel Agger the man most likely to be given the role with a view to eventually succeeding the man himself as Reds skipper in the long term.
However, finding an actual solution to the other more testing problem of replacing Gerrard on the field of play is still very much a work in progress for Rodgers and his coaching staff, although one that is sure to be uppermost in the head coach’s mind as the clock continues to tick down to LAG.
Last May, in Gerrard’s injury-enforced absence, Rodgers experimented with a change in team formation for the trip to take on Fulham in the Premier League, opting for the use of three centre backs with a packed midfield supporting a lone front man, before reverting to his more tried and trusted setup for the final league match of the campaign against Queens Park Rangers at Anfield.
What is clear, though, is that the responsibility of filling Gerrard’s shoes will need to be shared around among a number of different individuals in the team, with the likes of Jordan Henderson and reported target Henrikh Mkhitaryan, according to BBC Sport, taking on the task of contributing goals from midfield, while Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen will have to be the duel defensive midfield players protecting the back four with Philippe Coutinho being the supplier of goals.
Will Liverpool be able to cope without Gerrard?
And that is even before we mention responsibility for all of the side’s set pieces, including corners, free kicks and spot kicks, now the sole preserve of Gerrard, but which will in turn fall on the shoulders of Stewart Downing, Henderson and Daniel Sturridge respectively.
Of course, Rodgers and Co have a little time yet before G-Day arrives to iron out these issues, with talks over a new contract in the offing for Gerrard to take him beyond the end of his current deal that expires in June 2015 being confirmed by Rodgers to the Daily Mail.
However, the club and the whole of the red half of Merseyside know that that day is now very much on the horizon, and that there is no easy solution to LAG …