Steven Gerrard Can Still Play Big Role in Liverpool's Return to Champions League

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 12, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool shoots at goal from a free kick during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield on August 17, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

At age 33, Steven Gerrard remains a pivotal part of Liverpool's tactics and on-pitch quality.

The Champions League and multiple-time FA and League Cup winner has also claimed over 100 caps, is a record-breaking captain of the team and continually has the backing of his manager, Brendan Rodgers. Moreover, he was recently voted by fans as the most influential player in Liverpool's history.

Gerrard is undeniably a one-off and certainly good enough to have played for a title-winning team.

Though he could easily cope with still playing in the Champions League, his only focus at this stage in his career is rather more modestsimply to guide the Reds back into that competition.

Increasing age and declining influence on the field don't quite always go hand in hand, though, and Gerrard has enough left in his game to play one of the biggest roles in getting the side back into those coveted top four positions.


Playing Around Gerrard

For longer than most fans care to recall, whichever manager has been in charge at Anfield has had two dilemmas to solve: who to play at left-back and which position to play Steven Gerrard in.

Right midfield, central, behind the forward, back to the middle. Gerrard's versatility has helped his club and country immensely, but for times during his career, it might have been a hindrance to the player himself.

Amongst fans, talk has often centred around the rest of the players having to accommodate him rather than buying players who fit into a certain position.

Over the years, however, it has become more and more apparent that, to get the best out of Liverpool, you must get the best out of Gerrard.

Rodgers opts to play him in a second central midfield rolenot the deepest, protecting the defence, yet deep enough so that he collects the ball in space and has time to assess his options in front before picking telling pass after telling pass.

For the manager and the team, the key to getting the best out of the No. 8 these days is to offer better movement, thought and technique ahead of Gerrard.

That way, his passes have a greater chance of being anticipated and taken advantage of.



Pushing Teammates Further

Gerrard has never been a Roy Keane-style bawler and shouter at his teammates, the referee or opponents, but he isn't exactly the shy type either.

The Reds' captain will get involved when a younger Red needs protecting or he feels that his team is being unjustly treated, but his ability on the pitch is more often what presses others to play for him.

When Gerrard is at his best—and it can still be seen—a quick exchange of passes and a burst past three or four opponents within 10 metres can change the tempo and the direction of Liverpool's attack. This does more to up the game of those around him than shouting at them.

There's also the "he can" factor. Don't give up, don't accept defeat, because while Gerrard is on the pitch, Liverpool can still pull a result out of any desperate situation.

It doesn't always happen, of course, but he certainly gives his teammates an air of ability and belief which has otherwise been worryingly missing at Anfield over the years.


Big-Game Player

When it comes right down to it, if Rodgers gets his teams, transfers and tactics right, Liverpool are hoping to re-enter the top four of the Premier League either this season or in 2014-15 at the latest.

Any longer than that and Gerrard and Rodgers will probably both be transitioned in one way or another.

However, fans and staff are confident that it can happenperhaps even this season. Certainly, the start that Liverpool have made to the Premier League season bodes well for the challenges that lie ahead.

It's a fair bet that, when push comes to shove and Liverpool need a big performance, a goal or an injection of something different in a crunch match, it will be Gerrard who provides it.

Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho all have the ability to make things happen, but time and time again for Liverpool, it has been Gerrard who comes up with the goods when it matters most.

Captain, leader and veteran.

Gerrard's prime years might have passed by while Liverpool were at the very top of the European game, but his last few seasons as a top pro with the Reds need not all be spent outside of the continent's elite.



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