Liverpool FC: 8 Reasons Why Steven Gerrard's Return Means a Top-4 Finish
The most revealing aspect of Steven Gerrard's absence through injury has been that Liverpool can perform at the highest level and win without him. Four or five years ago you'd have almost broken a rib laughing at that kind of suggestion.
Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool have been forced to function almost entirely without their talisman, but the return (hopefully for good this time) of our No. 8 could very well kick-start a substantial claim to a top-four spot in May. It's easy to say that adding another quality player will of course make a team better, but there is nothing simple or straightforward about Gerrard and Liverpool FC.
Here are eight reasons why the return of Steven Gerrard will be the final piece in breaking back into the top four. As always, I appreciate your comments and opinions!
Steven Gerrard Can Score Screamers from Midfield
No team can rely solely on their forwards to score the goals (funny, isn't that what they are paid for?) and it is up to the offensive midfield to make up the difference. Players like Nani, Rafael van der Vaart and David Silva create but also chip in their fair amount of strikes from outside the box. Steven Gerrard has proved time and time again his ability to smash a ball into the net before the goalkeeper even realizes it has fallen to him.
Charlie Adam scored more than a few goals for Blackpool when rampaging forward from deep, but he has been restricted to a deeper role which will likely become even more apparent with Lucas Leiva's unfortunate injury. Rafa Benitez liked to state time and time again that Gerrard netted 25 times when deployed on the right of midfield, which would be highly unlikely this season but at the moment, we need goals and we need them now.
Whether it is from free kicks, combinations of passes or those delicious balls that float out from a congested six-yard box and sit on a plate, there are few players you'd put your money on to score from distance. Without Gerrard's long-range accuracy, Liverpool never would have made it to Istanbul to face AC Milan and wouldn't have been anywhere close to West Ham in the 2006 FA Cup final.
A fit Steven Gerrard should inject some goals into this relatively quiet Liverpool front line.
Liverpool's Set-Piece Delivery Has Been Abysmal
Personally I was most excited about the acquisition of Charlie Adam because it meant Steven Gerrard could profit from knock-downs as the Scot would be able to replicate his set-piece delivery from Blackpool. In the past few matches we've seen Adam, Stewart Downing and sometimes Craig Bellamy take free kicks and corners with little to no result.
Liverpool aren't the tallest team but the likes of Andy Carroll, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Dirk Kuyt need better delivery to be able to steal goals off dead-ball situations. Gerrard's ability to smash shots at goal or deliver accurate crosses has been sorely missed, not to mention his consistency from the penalty spot.
Against QPR, Liverpool had 17 corners to the London club's paltry five. None of those opportunities threatened Radek Cerny's goal in any way, especially noticeable in a game where getting that all-important goal was a problem.
Liverpool Need Steven Gerrard's Experience
When Steven Gerrard returned after a lengthy layoff due to surgery on a troublesome groin injury, the relief was almost palpable. With Andy Carroll struggling for consistency and the team lacking a real leadership presence on the pitch the option of bringing on Liverpool's No. 8 was a really boon to Kenny Dalglish.
This takes on an even greater significance considering the position Liverpool are in at the moment, sitting five points away from Champions League soccer. Goals have been in short supply at Anfield and around the country, but Kenny Dalglish have the team performing well and you feel it's only a matter of time before they lay out an absolute beating.
Gerrard is one of those players that, especially to Liverpool, represents more than just a dynamic offensive talent on the pitch. For the last decade he has carried the weight of the club on his shoulders, and his return will treble the team's determination to win at all costs.
Our returning captain may not necessarily score the goals we've been missing, but simply by being on the pitch or on the bench his presence will lift everyone else.
Kenny Dalglish Can Play 4-4-2 at Anfield Against Weaker Opposition
Up until the 1-0 over QPR, Liverpool have displayed an alarming trend of statistically dominating teams at Anfield but coming away with low-scoring or goalless draws. It hasn't been for lack of trying but at the end of the day, beating Chelsea and taking points off the other "big" clubs doesn't matter if you can't triumph over your Swanseas and Norwiches (no disrespect to either club, who have done brilliantly this season) at home.
At home against QPR, Kenny Dalglish deployed Dirk Kuyt alongside Luis Suarez, when arguably at times the game was crying out for Carroll, as ineffective as he has been. With Steven Gerrard fielded alongside Charlie Adam in the middle, Liverpool could play a relatively higher line, with both players able passers of the ball over short and long distances.
Neither Gerrard (anymore) or Adam are especially mobile players, but our relatively speedy back line should provide ample cover to allow the team to press further up the pitch. Against QPR, Jordan Henderson paired with Adam in the middle of the park and performed well, however couldn't provide that cutting edge needed to score.
Steven Gerrard Fits Snugly into a Defensively Solid 4-2-3-1
When playing away from home or against more formidable opposition, some sort of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 variant is typically the norm. Steven Gerrard played arguably his most electrifying football when deployed in behind Fernando Torres when both were at the height of their considerable talents. That combination nearly won Liverpool a memorable Premier League title in the 2008/2009 season.
Luis Suarez was purchased to add a third dimension to that tangent, but unfortunately Torres left for London and Gerrard succumbed to his longstanding groin trouble. Even though he may have lost a couple yards of pace and acceleration, deploying our No. 8 in behind Suarez could be a powerful combination, especially on the counterattack.
The prickly Uruguayan is a fundamentally different player to Torres, not as explosive as the Spaniard used to be and more adept at maneuvering into right spaces and "picking the lock" of a packed defensive line. Combine Gerrard's eye for a pass, ability on the ball and finishing nous with Suarez's movement, all-round cheekiness and technical ability, and you have a potentially tasty treat on the break.
Jordan Henderson Can Accelerate His Evolution into a New Steven Gerrard
I'll be the first to put up my hand and say I've given young Jordan Henderson no small amount of verbal abuse. To be fair if you look at his performance against Sunderland back in August and his display against QPR (albeit from a central midfield position) he's shown marked improvement already.
On several occasions I have speculated what exactly Kenny Dalglish sees Henderson evolving into. His raw abilities seem to project a pacy, technically good midfield runner who can pass and move, but shape himself for a shot as well. It is obvious that the closest comparison to be made is with Steven Gerrard, as well as Jonjo Shelvey to some extent who is clearly farther down in the pecking order than Henderson.
So what exactly does Henderson need to improve himself as a player? Playing time is without a doubt the most important, but lining up alongside Liverpool's captain and talisman on the pitch and at Melwood will make an enormous difference.
Steven Gerrard Will Be Desperate To Prove His Worth to Fabio Cappello
Everyone knows how much Steven Gerrard loves playing for England, and his desperation to take the field next summer will be Liverpool's gain.
Only Fabio Capello knows what his starting XI will be next summer but you can reasonably assume that it is unlikely to include Gerrard unless he is absolutely irresistible over the next six months. But as with Liverpool, having an asset like "Stevie G" available could make the difference in a critical match.
There has been much talk about shedding the "old guard" because they are simply too used to England going out in the quarterfinals on penalties, but the case for Gerrard's inclusion is watertight. He can play anywhere in midfield (save perhaps the left flank), behind Wayne Rooney or even as an auxiliary right-back. He's also a born leader, extremely vocal and commanding on the pitch and an experienced, calm head in the dressing room.
Additionally, the 2012 European Championship is without a doubt Gerrard's last chance to play for England. You could make the case that in order to properly overhaul the national team he should join Frank Lampard in retired exile, but all Liverpool bias aside, I feel he still has a great deal to give next summer.
On a Side Note: Liverpool Fans All over the World Miss Their Captain
To sum it all up I simply miss our dear No. 8, and a Liverpool team without Steven Gerrard just doesn't seem right (unlike a Chelsea team with Frank Lampard on the bench). Jaime Carragher is as experienced and reliable as you can get in a club captain, but his fire would only nourish a last-stand heroic defensive end to a game, not chasing that winning goal.
Gerrard's signature loping run is impossible not to pick out with a quick glance at a TV screen, and that particular way he shapes his body to take a shot has brought me so much joy over the years. The way he will get right up in the face of the opposition's toughest player puts steel into the spines of every red shirt on the pitch and in the stands.
And I have admit, I miss those times where he is charging so hard into a 50/50 challenge in full flight you can see the red card before he even makes the tackle (read: physical assault). He may not score a goal, he may mishit some passes and he may "accidentally" take someone's foot off at the ankle, but you'll never get anything less than 100 percent from Steven Gerrard.