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Gerrard Kicks Off the Season with a Performance to Forget

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LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  Steven Gerrard of Liverpool during the pre season friendly match between Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen at Anfield on August 12, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12: Steven Gerrard of Liverpool during the pre season friendly match between Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen at Anfield on August 12, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, Liverpool's midfield managed to provide two of the club's best performances on an otherwise regrettable day. It also unfortunately provided what was probably the worst of the match, as captain Steven Gerrard put in a performance that lacked both cutting edge and ball security, failing to create danger for West Brom in the attacking third while also too easily handing the ball over to Liverpool's opponents.

Despite Gerrard's poor showing, not all was bad in Liverpool's midfield. In his first Premier League match following injury last autumn against Chelsea in the League Cup, Lucas Leiva was the player with the fewest backwards passes for the visitors—only 4% of his 54 headed back towards Liverpool's goal. He was also the outfield player who sent the highest proportion of his passes forward, with 48% of his attempted passes looking to move Liverpool up the pitch. He may not be quite up to speed defensively following his long injury layoff, but with a 93% pass completion rate and more passes forward than any other player on the pitch for either side, his effectiveness on the ball from deep in midfield was impossible to argue against.
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Next to him, Joe Allen continued his accurate ways from last season at Swansea by leading the team in passes and pass accuracy, hitting on 96% of his attempts while sending the ball forward 32% of the time, to the side 59% of the time, and backwards 9% of the time. Set next to Lucas' numbers and passing chart, it suggests a slight shift in Liverpool's midfield, with the increasingly confident Lucas becoming the key player for setting Liverpool's attack from midfield and driving the ball into the final third—after which, unfortunately, Liverpool's attacking quartet failed to do all that much with it in the opening match. Meanwhile, at least on the strength of the first game, Allen appeared the midfielder most responsible for recycling possession and setting the midfield's tempo.

Which then leaves Steven Gerrard's game to address. His 82% pass completion rate from open play, roughly in line with the 83% he averaged last season, seems decent in isolation but marked him out as Liverpool's least accurate passer against West Bromwich Albion—behind both Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini. Some of that, it could be argued, is a natural side effect of being pushed higher up the pitch, but Gerrard sent only 14 passes forward against West Bromwich Albion—or just 25% of them, a significant drop from last season when he sent 46% up the pitch—while turning the ball over ten times through sloppy passing.

In fact, including times when he was disposed, OPTA stats record Gerrard losing the ball on 19 separate occasions—more than anyone else on the pitch on Saturday and more than Lucas and Allen put together. Those poor numbers might have been somewhat understandable had he delivered a driving, attacking performance—even though that would have signalled a player at odds with Brendan Rodgers' more methodical, possession-based approach. But that wasn't what happened. Against West Brom, Gerrard was in fact fairly conservative with the ball. He just wasn't very good with it.

It was such a poor performance that even Gerrard himself felt compelled to address it after the match. "I made a mistake which led to [Agger's] sending off," he admitted. "I gave the ball away in the first place and that led to Daniel being put in trouble. I take full responsibility for that."

That may have been his worst moment of the day, but it wasn't his only regrettable one, and combined with a growing disinterest as the match wore along and Liverpool's hopes of gaining anything from it faded, Saturday has to go down as one of the captain's worst performances for the club. On a day when a number of Liverpool players handed in sub-par performances, Gerrard's may have been the worst. If he had simply been anonymous it would have been one thing, but instead he was actively harmful without it even being the result of taking too many risks.

Any chance of Liverpool rebounding in the league when they host Manchester City will be dependent on Gerrard moving past Saturday's embarrassment behind him and putting in a performance that offers more attacking threat while also keeping hold of the ball better. Thankfully for fans, Gerrard has a history of rebounding from poor performances and saving his best efforts for top opposition. Still, Saturday's poor display against West Brom was worrying and cannot be overlooked entirely—even if for many, including Gerrard himself, it might rather be forgotten.