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Legend or Not, Gerrard's Form Should See Him Benched

It may be a hard truth for Liverpool fans and a hard choice for manager Brendan Rodgers, but with his form poor and with the player seeming unwilling to adapt to a new system, benching Steven Gerrard must be considered.

Michael Regan - Getty Images

The key issue isn't the poor passing. The problem isn't the odd Hollywood ball. As it becomes increasingly hard to argue that Steven Gerrard has been anything but a liability in midfield for Brendan Rodgers, the concern isn't so much his play when Liverpool have possession, even if his 80% pass success rate so far this season is well bellow what's needed and in three league games he has been the direct cause of two goals against and one teammate being sent off. No, the real problem is the seeming indifference from a man who as captain has always led by example.

Now, though, when Liverpool fell behind against Arsenal, that example involved sauntering back down the pitch after turning the ball over in the attacking third. Now, when Liverpool has won the ball back, that example involves walking back up the pitch while his teammates run past him in attack. The lack of execution is hard enough to accept, but to see Gerrard at times loitering near Suarez while Liverpool defends in their own end and then closer to Skrtel than Suarez when the rest of the team transitions into attack sets an unforgivably indifferent example and says to the fans that the captain simply cannot be bothered.

One can be nearly certain, of course, that Gerrard is bothered. That he does care. The appearance, however, is damning, no matter how much Gerrard may have done for the club in the past. Legendary status is not easily earned at Liverpool, and as one of the club's greatest ever players Gerrard deserves that title more even than most others who hold it. Yet that doesn't change that in the present, on his current form, the only real argument for including him in the starting eleven when Liverpool take on Sunderland next weekend is that he's undroppable due to what he did—what he was able to do on the pitch with regularity—in the past.

Some have suggested that to counter his wastefulness in possession, a move to the wing would be for the best. On his current form, however, seeing a player like Jonjo Shelvey given a role in the attacking three while Jordan Henderson replaces Gerrard in midfield and Gerrard moves to the bench is probably deserved.

And beyond the question of what is deserved based on performance and not legacy, there are reasons to wonder if a move to the right would actually benefit the team. Pressing is hugely important for the wide players in Brendan Rodgers' system, as those players are expected to both defend from the front and help out at the back. Gerrard might be capable of adding to the attacking threat from the right, but it is difficult to imagine the man who ambled about the pitch on Sunday and has looked lethargic for much of the season to date would be capable of the required workrate when Liverpool didn't have possession—especially in a position that is more isolated than his current midfield role and where he wouldn't be able to rely on two other players to do the heavy lifting without the ball.

What it all may add up to in the end is that there today really only appear two options for Steven Gerrard—or at least the Steven Gerrard who has been on display over the first month of the new season. Those options are, first, to push him as high up the pitch as possible to play in the middle of Rodgers' attacking trio as a false nine. Unfortunately and uncomfortably, the second option increasingly appears to be a move to the bench to take on the roll of a supersub who can be brought on for twenty minutes of hard running in attack when Liverpool find themselves down a goal late.

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Whether Brendan Rodgers will feel able to make such a major and potentially controversial change is of course another question. No matter how brave it was of the Liverpool manager to play Sebastian Coates and Raheem Sterling against Manchester City, and as much as those moves showed an unflinching boldness, benching Gerrard would be on another level entirely. And one only need look to Chelsea of last season, where Andre Villas-Boas signed his death warrant early on by running afoul of John Terry and Frank Lampard, to see what can happen when a young manager attempts to sideline club icons.

It also may not help that when Rodgers made the decision to gamble on a pair of promising prospects against City he believed he had the full backing of Liverpool's owners. Now, following their failure to back him on the final day of the transfer window and no matter statements made publicly by the owners that suggest Rodgers continues to have their full support, it would be understandable if Rodgers had some doubts as to who would come out on top if an attempt to sit Gerrard led to any kind of power struggle.

Whatever Rodgers does, though, it can't be encouraging for the manager to see the club's captain and one of its best ever players seemingly so at odds with the style of play he wants to install. Even Jamie Carragher, for all that his physical ability is clearly fading, appears to have bought fully into the manager's desire to keep the ball on the ground and play a possession-based game. The ageing centre back's legs may not be up to it any more, but after a career of launching the ball downfield at the slightest excuse, Carragher has shown a commendable willingness to at least try to adapt to a new system.

Gerrard mostly hasn't even appeared to try. Combined with his often disinterested play, particularly when Liverpool lose possession—which is often the result of a misplaced, over-ambitious pass by Gerrard himself—it's hard to come up with any strong argument for starting Steven Gerrard against Sunderland that only relies on footballing reasons. The reality however is that even at the best of times benching a club legend would be a difficult, perhaps even terrifying prospect for a new manager. Liverpool's current struggles, then, may make it nearly impossible, setting up a situation where Brendan Rodgers loses no matter what he does—though in that case a gamble on Gerrard as centre forward might just offer the slightest hope of an answer to what seems an impossible question.

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