Does Steven Gerrard have a place in Rodgers' Liverpool?
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Does Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard's style of play fit with the new Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers? Today on the blog Think Football take a look at the issue.
Since taking over at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers has looked to implement a possession based style of play that returned him so much success at Swansea. The emphasis on possession has been clear to see with Liverpool playing the ball out of the back and keeping it on the deck. Rodgers has brought in Allen to help meet this style whilst marginalising Carroll, whose direct style does not fit into his plans.
So where though does Gerrard fit into these plans? Liverpool's talismanic captain, as dynamic and as much ability as he has, is not the most technically sound footballer as the first two games of the season show.
No outfield player had a worse pass completion percentage than Steven Gerrard in Liverpool's opener with West Brom. The Liverpool captain had just 82% accuracy in what was a side attempting to retain possession and implement slow build up play. His average pass accuracy over the two games has been 80% with Allen's in contrast being 94.7%, vastly superior.
The story was the same against Manchester City. Many pundits praised Gerrard's performance but for a centre midfielder to only have a 78% pass accuracy rate is simply not good enough.
In Rodgers style all of the midfield players need to be able to retain possession and keep the ball. One reason why Gerrard does not fit this style are the number of 'Hollywood balls' that Gerrard plays. Against City he attempted 10 long balls, more than any other outfield player. In contrast Rodgers prefers his sides to keep the ball and play simple passes.
Further evidence for this are the four key passes he attempted, Allen only attempted 0.5 key passes per game showing how he is more inclined to keep it simple and retain possession. Such low relative pass accuracy clearly demonstrates that he is perhaps a weak link in Liverpool’s ball retention strategy.
Issues Of Familiarity?
One might argue that this is because he is not used to Rodger's style of play but his team-mates have adapted brilliantly, especially the defenders, whose pass completion is up significantly from last season, as is the number of passes per game they play. Liverpool have for so long played through Gerrard, it is fair to say that he has been at the heart of Liverpool since Rafa Benitiz took over the club.
Under Rodgers, this emphasis looks to have shifted with Allen being the pivotal midfield player. Gerrard did have more touches of the ball than Allen against Man City, 84, to Allen's 57, however Gerrard moves on the ball, something Allen does not, and something that Rodgers does not particularly encourage. Last season Sinclair and Dyer completed a high number of dribbles as Swansea's outlet players on the flanks, but the central players operated the sort of tika-taka pass and move football that involves few touches. Allen subtly moves the ball on and dictates Liverpool's play.
One could argue this is how Xabi Alonso operated, grossly under-rated during his time at Anfield, he was really the technical heart of the side. With Gerrard in his peak then it was easier to think of him as the club's main man, but with his grand goals and assist somewhat in decline, his relative importance is diminishing somewhat.
In With the New
His form has also not been particularly good over the last three seasons or so with him missing spells through injury as well as looking off the pace somewhat. At 32 Rodgers would probably prefer a more subtle, technical player in that role to Gerrard who as the stats indicate is not the best at retaining the ball. Of course this could all change, but with Nuri Sahin being brought, in Rodgers might prefer a midfield three of Lucas, Allen and Sahin, in terms of a blend between defensive awareness and technique. Sahin, unlike Gerrard is renowned for his technical ability and for his precision passing.
At just 23 years old Sahin could represent the future and unfortunately Gerrard might represent the past. He simply is not the right sort of player to fit into Rodgers style and as long as Sahin settles in quickly and demonstrates his passing ability Rodgers might face a dilemma on whether to drop Gerrard or not.
Dropping Gerrard is not going to be easy with Liverpool fans so quick to defend him and point out his past achievements, so it would take a brave man to put him on the bench. With injuries and squad rotation it would not necessitate a bold statement from Rodgers but merely a bit of careful tinkering which would see Gerrard's first team responsibilities reduced somewhat.
Gerrard's Immediate Future
Rodgers clearly likes his sides to keep the ball, there is simply no better way to defend than when your side has the ball. Gerrard's inclination to shoot, play long balls and risky through balls, unless they come off means the side surrender possession. With the Sahin signing he may have to adapt his game somewhat in order to retain his place, although it arguably remains to be seen whether he has the quality to do this.
At 32 years old Gerrard's time as a regular for club and country could be numbered as Liverpool appear to be rebuilding around ball players such as Allen and possibly Sahin. Rodgers has already shown he can be ruthless having ousted Carroll, Adam, Downing, Henderson and Spearing from the side who played against City, the question is, is Gerrard next?
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I would definitely have to agree with Joe here. Gerrard is a player with a very fine touch and excellent inspiration. Quite a rarity for an English player.
Using passing accuracy statistics to determine the ability of a player will be hard on any offensive-minded player as they are the ones asked to take the risks with their passing. They are up against shut defences and need to think fast to get their ball through. It is only natural for their efforts to be less successful as the difficulty levels increase. This would be true even of Neymar, Totti and Zidane.
On the other end of the pitch most scenarios are relatively safe compared to those upfront so defensive midfielders and defenders might get much better looking stats. But games are won by the inspirational, well-meant, risky and intuitive attempts of players like Gerrard.
Rodgers is one brilliant football mind and he knows better than leaving Gerrard on the fringes of a team which aims at a top four place.
The plan for Sahin at Real had originally been as a player sitting in front of defence. Mourinho never experimented with the idea but Rodgers may have just that kind of thing in mind. This would mean that there would be no dualism with Gerrard, in fact allowing for the English midfielder to play in a more congenial advanced role where his intuition can be better taken advantage of.
As for Downing and Henderson having been dropped against City while Gerrard was on the pitch, interesting stats one might want to look at are last season's goals and assists for each of the three players. Downing had 36 starts for the Reds last season including cup games, Henderson had 41 whilst Gerrard had 21. By himself Gerrard had more goals and assists than the two put together - 8 goals and 6 assists compared to the 4 goals and 5 assists for the other two summed up.
Thanks for an article that focuses on Liverpool midfield. There are many questions over the new coach and also the new playing style that Rodgers is trying to introduce to Liverpool. However, it's not a new theme to see Liverpool dominating a football game, this is evident in last season's performance under Kenny Daglish. Rodger is inheriting a bunch of players that can do the same thing with a few minor changes of staff where Joe Allen and Fabio Borini have entered the frame. Therefore, quick and short passes is very important to the game play.
As to Gerrard, there is a massive difference between how Gerrard plays and Joe Allen play. Allen is to play the defensive role and his passing is more or less 60% behind the half way line and not the final third. Gerrard is looked upon as the offensive midfielder of the two and the long pass, miss pass and short pass is required from him as he has the ability to create chances for the players going forward. Therefore, both Lucas and Allen's stats will always be better than Gerrard on the bases of how they play and their role they are executing.
Any team would profit from Gerrard's experience and also the offensive mentality that he possess. He is a game winner and drives hard on the pitch. Therefore Rodger will certainly keep a player like his calibrate, not just because of his ability but also captain of Liverpool, role model for the future player and leader of England team. Therefore, I can't see how you use stats to determine Gerrard might be pushed out of Liverpool due to some passes.
My conclusion would heavily side on the fact that this time, the stats doesn't give us a clear picture of what happens on the pitch. Since Gerrard is Liverpool's captain for already two out of the two Rodger's Premiership games, it is pretty obvious that Gerrard is here to stay and Rodgers will be looking for his leadership to see that Liverpool get the most of him.