Why Steven Gerrard Will Be the Key Man for Liverpool vs. Everton

Matt LadsonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2014

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool tangles with Gareth Barry of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park on November 23, 2013 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

He's been the "key man" for Liverpool for over a decade, and he will be once again for Tuesday night's Merseyside derby at Anfield—Steven Gerrard.

Although this time there is a key difference; in the past, it has been about Gerrard's attacking talents and whether Everton can nullify them. This time around, it will be all about whether Gerrard's defensive role in midfield can be exposed by Everton.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 13:  Jay Spearing and Steven Gerrard of Liverpool celebrate victory in the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Everton at Anfield on March 13, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Just under two years ago, Gerrard lined up alongside Jay Spearing in Kenny Dalglish's side and stunned the Toffees with a superb hat-trick.

It's a very different Liverpool squad that enters the derby now, and although Gerrard's position will be largely the same as that night in 2012, his role within the side is completely different.

In 2012, Dalglish's side were playing a 4-4-2—Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson out wide, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez up front—and the match was the first time Liverpool had started a Premier League match with Suarez, Gerrard and Carroll in the starting XI.

A new dawn beckoned.

Or not. Dalglish was sacked two months later.

Two years on, and now, we've seen Brendan Rodgers try the formation in his last two fixtures.

Dalglish was widely criticised for his use of the "outdated" formation, and Rodgers was similarly on the receiving end of criticism after the use of it in the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa a fortnight ago.

Yet against Bournemouth on Saturday, it was the same formation, although admittedly due to lack of options available in midfield, and it could be again against Everton.

Against Villa, Liverpool's two-man central midfield of Gerrard and Henderson were woefully exposed, Gerrard in particular struggling to cope in his new defensive role in front of the back four, especially when pressed by Villa's attacking midfielders.

Gerrard loves scoring against Everton.
Gerrard loves scoring against Everton.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Only once when Liverpool changed to a 3-5-2 against Villa did the tide turn.

With Lucas Leiva out injured, Rodgers must decide whether to risk Joe Allen to help the midfield balance, as per Neil Jones of The Liverpool Echo. It would certainly be a wise call to make.

Without Allen, Gerrard's effectiveness in the central defensive role will be put under huge scrutiny.

Rodgers would be sensible to deploy Allen in the holding role if he's fit, and if not, perhaps even change to three at the back if Mamadou Sakho is back available.

Sakho's return would be a huge boost for Liverpool, especially given Romelu Lukaku's presence up front for the visitors. Sakho's physical presence in defence would be hugely welcomed.

Regardless of whether Allen and/or Sakho are fit enough to start, Gerrard and his role within the side will be key to the outcome in what is one of the most important Premier League Merseyside derbies ever.