While Liverpool struggled to find some semblance of quality and consistency through much of the first half of the season, one of the biggest contributing factors was the often poor play of captain Steven Gerrard. While it's unlikely the player ever will have wondered if performances might have improved if he hadn't played every minute in the league as many fans began to, in a recent interview with Liverpool FC's magazine he made clear he was at least aware those performances weren't up to par.
"I've had mixed experiences this season," said Gerrard. "I've passed some unbelievable landmarks for club and country, getting to the 600 games mark and winning my 100th cap for England. But with the slow start we made and being where we have in the league it's been a bit mixed for me.
"There's my form as well. I've played well in some games but I've been disappointed with myself in others and I'm not happy with my goal tally at the moment. People's opinions, perceptions and the way they judge you changes when you get a goal. I think my performances are getting closer to where I want them to be so if I can add goals to those performances then maybe people will start saying the old Steven Gerrard is back."
Though most would agree his play has improved considerably over the past month, for many it will have been sloppy turnovers and an at times questionable defensive work-rate that were the bigger concern for much of the season. Still, that the player himself was aware of his poor form and has worked to improve it to the point where over December and the first days of January he's been one of the squad's strongest performers rather than one of its weakest is certainly cause for optimism.
"I don't think the manager's asked me to do anything different in terms of the way he wants to me to perform," he continued, "but because of certain injuries, situations that have happened to the team and formations that we've played, I've naturally played a little bit deeper. I've maybe gone into protection mode rather than playing the old Steven Gerrard way with the shackles off and going for the jugular."
"When you're one of the experienced players in the team, the team's more important than yourself and maybe I've sacrificed myself in certain games and tried to protect by playing deeper and be a controller with Joe [Allen] but now that Lucas is back, he gives me the licence to get forward a lot more so hopefully I can add some goals to my performances.
"But I've got the buzz that the team's improving and it's going to get better. I'm confident that come the end of the season I will be satisfied with myself and the team because I do believe we can finish the season really strong."
Having won five of their last seven league matches since December began, there certainly is a bit more of a buzz surrounding Liverpool than there was even a few weeks ago. And though poor results—and worse performances—against Stoke and Aston Villa do linger such as to caution against the most wildly optimistic pronouncements, it's fair at least to say that Liverpool today do look better than they had.
A lot of that is thanks to the improved form of Steven Gerrard, and if he can reach the end of the season satisfied with his own level of performance then just maybe it will have meant a strong second half for the entire club.