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The bad news is that those other areas of defense need quite a bit of work still. None of Rodgers’ full-back options have really made any lasting impression, and Jose Enrique’s positioning against City on Wednesday was spectacularly abhorrent.
Not that Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson did much to resurrect their Anfield careers either, and Jack Robinson, so often heralded as Liverpool’s next homegrown left-back talent, hasn’t shown enough to suggest he can usurp even Jon Flanagan’s place in the pecking order anytime soon.
Then there’s the sticky issue of the defensive midfield, whose current incumbents, besides the enterprising Emre Can, are the off-pace Lucas and the increasingly off-pace Steven Gerrard.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times—and a sad sight for all Liverpool fans—that their performance was markedly improved in the second half, and even more so with Gerrard off the pitch. His absence might deprive his team of on-field leadership and creative vision, but it’s also no coincidence that the entire Reds side look more cohesive going forward and defending as a unit without the captain.
With Gerrard’s international retirement, the case of Gerrard’s playing time this season will be something that Brendan Rodgers needs to manage carefully. Get it right, and the Reds will have a bright future while phasing out their captain. Get it wrong, and there could be huge ramifications on how the season turns out.