Holding Midfielder Steven Gerrard Flourishes in Liverpool Draw at West Brom

Max MuntonLiverpool CorrespondentFebruary 2, 2014


Steven Gerrard looked very comfortable in his new role as holding midfielder in Liverpool's ultimately disappointing draw with West Brom at the Hawthorns in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.

It was after Liverpool's 5-3 victory at Stoke City last month that Brendan Rodgers first began to explain, as per BBC Sport, Gerrard's new responsibilities:

He has got the personality to play in that controlling role.

He gives us great variety in his passing. We saw today he picked it up from deep and stretched the game with his vision and quality.

Indeed, against West Brom, Gerrard's teammates looked relaxed with the captain playing inside the Reds' own half, leading to a largely controlled Liverpool performance, particularly in the first-half.

Kolo Toure's catastrophic ball across his own box that lead to West Brom's equaliser during a period of pressure from the hosts prevented what should have been a straight-forward win on a difficult away day for Liverpool.

It will be seen as two points dropped for Rodgers' side, but there were positives to take from the game.


Fixing the defence from midfield

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02:  Luis Suarez (L) speaks with teammate Martin Skrtel of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool at The Hawthorns on February 2, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Ph
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Liverpool's defence has been somewhat of a weak spot in the team this season, whilst the attack has gone from strength to strength.

Putting Gerrard in that deeper role in front of Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure lifted some of the pressure off the central defensive pairing that has caused the Reds to concede goals this season.

There were times against West Brom in which Gerrard was the furthest man back, effectively playing as a third central defender, but constantly readjusting his position to fit with attacking movements, or periods of Liverpool possession.

It allowed Skrtel and Toure the time and space to move Liverpool's defensive line forward, essentially making a smaller pitch for the Baggies to find attacking movement in.

For Gerrard, the new role means less running than the attacking Gerrard of old and so, at 33 years old, he conserves energy and can play a vital part in every Liverpool game.

In effect, there is no compromise over playing Gerrard in a deeper role to the one that has been so important to Liverpool's attack over the years.

The Reds now have the offensive quality of Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to move the ball forward from midfield and create goalscoring opportunities, even if it wasn't in evidence against West Brom.

The more advanced and over-relied upon attacking Gerrard has been replaced by a plethora of exciting talent.


A winning system

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01:  Kolo Toure of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Hull City at Anfield on January 1, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

It was on-the-whole a professional performance by Liverpool at the Hawthorns, and their controlling of the game was largely down to Gerrard sitting comfortably in the holding midfield role.

The England international could pick up balls and be the catalyst between defence and Liverpool's attacking midfielders, or stay on the ball and retain possession from the back, thus controlling the tempo of the game.

Furthermore, when the opportunity comes, Gerrard is still capable of spraying a 50-yard inch-perfect ball forward across the field—a characteristic of his career that the deeper role allows him to pick up again.

Although the home side offered little in attacking threat until the second half, it was testament to Liverpool's system that they were fairly comfortably kept at bay for most of the game.

No system can prevent such defensive blunders as Toure's, which cost Liverpool the win.


A future-proof strategy

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

With Gerrard's inevitable retirement in the next few years, it's important that Rodgers builds his system to safeguard the team for the post-Gerrard years ahead.

In Gerrard, Rodgers has a reliable player to begin working his holding midfielder strategy into the team, so that when the times comes for Gerrard to step down, his successor can come into the role, and the rest of the team won't be affected by any major shift in tactics.

Rodgers' side face Arsenal next week—a team which completely undid Liverpool's defence owing to a lacklustre and out of position Reds' central midfield of Gerrard and Lucas Leiva when the sides met at the Emirates Stadium in November.

This time round, Liverpool will have that extra man in Gerrard shoring up the defence and making a back-wall difficult for any Premier League attack to break.