After another setback in the road to recovery for Steven Gerrard, it is a good time to take stock of what this means for Liverpool FC going forward. The simultaneous omission of Jamie Carragher from the lineup is an indicator that we are approaching an end of an era for the Reds. This may be the beginning of the second reign of King Kenny, but it is the twilight for two local lads that have defined the first decade of the new millennium for Liverpool.
Anyone remotely familiar with English soccer over the recent years knows that Steven Gerrard is synonymous with Liverpool FC. Having had the opportunity to apply his trade at clubs like Real Madrid and Chelsea for more money and arguably better chances of winning a trophy, the Scouser chose to remain at Liverpool at every turn. That kind of commitment to the cause has made Gerrard the hero he is today for Reds supporters and they will never forget it.
When such talented, driven and committed players become the first names on your team sheet like Gerrard and Carragher for so long, it is hard to look past the time when they will no longer make the grade. Let us look at the implications of this new setback for the Liverpool side this season, while also casting our eyes a further down the road to what the changing of the guard will mean for the Reds long term.
This one seems obvious but when Liverpool were flying high and flirting with winning the title a few years back, the biggest critique of that side was that they were a two-man team. Gerrard and Torres accounted for nearly 40 percent of the goals Liverpool scored in the Premier league during the 2008-2009 season. So far this campaign, Luis Suarez has a share of around 30 percent. If he were to have capitalized on some of the many chances he's created and had a bit more luck, that percentage would be even more inflated.
The fact that Dalglish is in charge during this period in Liverpool's history is invaluable. He provides the continuity in a period of transition for many aspects of life at Anfield. A change in ownership just happens to coincide with a change in the old guard.
Every elite level team has a constant shuffle of talented players moving through their ranks, but Liverpool for more than a decade have been able to count on Gerrard to provide the grit and drive that competing in the Premier League requires. As much skill and ability as the elite players around Europe possess, few can claim to be able to change the complexion of a match through sheer determination and intelligence.
Despite the injury, it would be unwise to bet against Gerrard having a significant role to play this season and for a couple seasons to follow. But relying on a player who is in and out of the side to score a lion's share of your goals is folly.
The Reds have equipped themselves well since they have spent the first quarter of the season without their talisman, but they will most certainly have to do better. Suarez will hit a wall somewhere during this term and won't be able to be so prodigious every match. An extra goal here and there is going to have to come from somewhere.
Charlie Adam has been fantastic so far this season and we need to get forward more often to supplement the attack. Stewart Downing, after a bright start, has come off the boil slightly and is still in search of his first goal in a Reds jersey. He needs to provide more attacking thrust and chip in with more goals.
Andy Carroll has come on as of late, but we still have yet to see him at his best. I think this is largely because of the role he has been asked to play. Unlike other big men, Carroll was more effective at Newcastle picking up the ball in midfield, linking up the attack and then rejoining the line after the ball is distributed outside. Hopefully Dalglish will find his most potent role for the Reds.
Since the spending spree over the last year, Liverpool have added a lot of proven talent and possess many great prospects for the future. But in order for Liverpool to be playing Champions League football come next season, goals will need to come from elsewhere.
The infection in Stevie's ankle that has sidelined him immediately after his goal-producing return to the starting lineup has given many Liverpool supporters some pause. The fact that it coincided with a knock on Carragher was a preview of things to come.
In the not-too-distant future, both these stalwarts will be retiring after long and successful careers. For younger Liverpool fans it will be a culture shock to no longer expect their names to be on the team sheet. This past weekend we were given a taste of what the lineup can be without them.
The side that was sent out against West Brom is a strong side. But is it really a top-four side? If you compare the best 11 from the other "sexy six" in the Premier League, a lineup without Gerrard leaves something to be desired.
Suarez will only get better but if he is the only star man for too long, he might develop a case of wandering eye. Adam is a quality player, but not in the world-class level of Gerrard at his best. Jordan Henderson is compared to the Liverpool captain often; he has a lot of talent and also can only get better. Yet compare his progress to Gerrard, who was already lighting up Anfield at the same age.
There are, of course, great things to come from players like Jonjo Shelvey and Conor Coady (who I still think has more attacking midfielder in him than central defender). But in the twilight of Gerrard's career and before his departure, Liverpool will have to may have to break the bank for a proven midfield star to avoid a similar situation with Suarez as Torres. Though in hindsight, Liverpool really sold at the right time.
Glossed over this point already, but it is worth going into a little more in depth. Take one goal scorer out of the equation and another has to step up. The Geordie boy is showing signs of life in recent weeks and his movement and hold-up play have been better.
That being said, regardless of the fee, Carroll hasn't been good enough. In fact, the more I think about this squad, the more I don't think he is a part of their best 11 when Gerrard is fit. Adam is too good to leave off the pitch, Lucas is vital in controlling matches and Suarez leads the line better than Carroll.
So when Gerrard is in the side, I would like to see Dalglish implement the 4-2-3-1 system that served them so well when they racked up 86 points a few years back. Gerrard in the supporting striker role behind Suarez looks more mouth-watering than when Torres was up top.
With Gerrard out of the side, this is AC's chance. The starting 11 against West Brom will be the look for this weekend and following the international break. Carroll has to find a way to get more involved in the attack and not become the long-ball outlet that makes Liverpool more one-dimensional.
I think Kenny is somewhat to blame for his slow emergence. Though so powerful in the air, he is not your quintessential target man. When he caught the eye of everyone around the league at Newcastle, it was more in support of Kevin Nolan than in front of him. He picked up the ball in deeper positions than Kenny has him playing now and should be given more of a license to roam.
The comparisons to Rush and Dalglish or Toshack and Keegan should actually be in reverse for Andy and Luis. If Suarez is told to play off the shoulder of the defender and Carroll is charged with running in behind him and onto the end of some crosses, I think you will see a more potent and effective AC.
Liverpool have played three out of the other predicted top-five sides so far this season and the results are a mixed bag. They deserved their win against Arsenal without playing exceptionally well, though that was early in the season. They were just over run against Tottenham—let's just forget that one. Finally, against the Old Enemy, they should have taken all three points for a commanding performance against their arch rivals.
It just so happens that after the international break, the other two sides await the Reds in consecutive weekends. In a fortnight we will see just how much Kenny's side has improved and how far they are behind.
First will be a trip to Stamford Bridge to face a Chelsea side that has yet to completely click, but are still full of game-winners. Yet if Chelsea continue to play the high line with marauding full-backs then I think this match will suit Liverpool very well. Suarez will be a menace to both Ivanovic and Terry and unless Villas-Boas decides to man-mark him from midfield, the Reds have a good shot at leaving London with all the spoils.
The week after Mancini's men will make a trip down the M62 to visit Anfield. The mood during that week will depend on the result at Chelsea, but no matter what, Dalglish will take this as an opportunity to build confidence for the rest of the term with a win. A victory will be a tall order no matter who is in the side for Manchester City. Regardless of whether or not Gerrard is fit and on form come November 27, every player in the side will have to be at their best.
If the Reds come through these two matches with at least four points. I think it bodes well for the return of European football next season—the Champions League variety.
Players and managers will come and go but the fanbase will remain and grow. The infrastructure will be improved and the club is in the hands of a trustworthy ownership group. Melwood is a world-class facility and the eventual new ground will, I am sure, be a modern marvel.
As we prepare to see the backs of favorites like Carragher and Gerrard, we will all come to know and love players with just as much commitment to Liverpool FC as the supporters display.
Unlike most, I see the emergence of teams like Manchester City as a challenge and a blessing. It has shaken up the football world and forced the elite teams to think more about how they can succeed in this new environment. Few are doing a better job of planning for it than the board at Liverpool.
Soon, a place atop the Premier League pyramid will be the Reds' once again.