If there is a knock against Steven Gerrard—and one must be rather nitpicky to find one—it is perhaps the England captain’s lack of positional discipline, the tactical shortcoming of a box-to-box midfielder who, to a fault, craves involvement in absolutely everything.
As esteemed a critic as tactics guru Jonathan Wilson once wrote in The Guardian that “Gerrard’s penchant for Hollywood passes and his tactical indiscipline are well-known,” adding, “Take a cohesive team, add Gerrard, and the result has been a shambles.”
An exaggeration? Perhaps. Although one has only to recall Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s displeasure with Juan Mata’s incessant roaming for a very recent example of the way pointless, inefficient movement is frowned upon in modern football.
That said, Gerrard’s performances this season have been anything but pointless, and his Man of the Match display against Fulham on Wednesday was the very picture of efficiency.
In fact, there’s an argument to be made that, at 33, Gerrard has never been better, and for that he has Brendan Rodgers to thank.
Although it took an entire campaign to implement, the Liverpool manager’s short-passing, quick-tempo style has brought out the best in the skipper, revitalising the veteran’s career to the point that he can be seriously regarded as one of the best distributors of a football in the Premier League.
And it’s happened because Gerrard is touching the ball more than ever before.
Once viewed as a sort of English football equivalent of Brett Favre—a high-risk, high-reward action man as likely to play a killer ball as to turn it over in spectacular fashion—he is now safer and more useful in possession because of the number of passes he plays over the course of a match.
Michael Carrick, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta & Steven Gerrard are the four players to make 3,000+ touches in 2012-13 #teamoftheseason— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) May 20, 2013
A central playmaker in Rodgers’ 4-3-3 system, Gerrard is rarely more than a few yards away from both an attacking option and a lateral one, and as a result his touches are mostly confined to a handful of areas in the middle of the pitch rather than randomly scattered throughout the park.
Against Fulham, for instance, the movements of Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho ensured he always had a safe outlet for distribution (and vice versa), and with one of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling dropping back to aid the buildup, there was typically a forward option available to him as well.
Steven Gerrard has been directly involved (score or assisted) in 24% of Liverpool's Premier League goals this season. pic.twitter.com/Ffwva2Bvy3— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 12, 2014
Furthermore, the increased variety in his distribution this season has made Gerrard’s trademark long balls even more dangerous, if for no other reason than he now has other passing weapons in his arsenal.
His immediate, instinctive side-footer over the Fulham midfield sprung Sturridge for Liverpool’s first goal at Craven Cottage, and by the time his presence was required at the penalty spot after Sturridge was hacked to ground in stoppage time, he hadn’t done so much running that his concentration was found lacking as he stroked the ball into the back of the net.
Even his defensive contributions have been better because of his more concentrated positioning.
Against Fulham he threw himself into five tackles and successfully executed an interception—important involvements that have been par for the course for him this term.
Naturally, Gerrard’s longevity stands to benefit because of Rodgers’ influence, and that can only be a good thing for both Liverpool and England.