All season long, Liverpool obsessives have debated the efficacy of Steven Gerrard in the Liverpool midfield. Terms like mobility, positioning and tactical awareness have been locked in a deadly Mexican standoff to see which one emerges as the least irritatingly apposite, as the legendary Redman found himself relentlessly assessed by couch-surfing know-it-alls, who would probably fail to roll one of those five yard sideways passes they deride Lucas Leiva for favouring.
Ah yes, in the world of cosy recliners and Football Manager on your chosen console, everyone's an expert, but of course it's churlish to suggest that only those who can perform a task are capable of lucid analysis of that task, and sometimes the sedentary sages have a point. It would take a debater of sublime oratorical skill to convince even a crowd of partisan Reds that Gerrard has been utilised to his current potential as part of a withdrawn central duo.
When paired with the aforementioned Brazilian, Gerrard has formed one half of a unit that has been dominated and bypassed with alarming regularity, both this season and last. Neither man, despite their obvious gifts, has the motility and tenacity of a Javier Mascherano and nor do they possess the positional nous of a Xabi Alonso. Like it or not, it is against that stellar pair that all Liverpool midfields have been judged in recent years.
For many of us, the preferred role for Steven Gerrard is as an attacker, primarily. The notion, echoed by his manager, that the Huyton man is such an adept defender and reader of the game that he would make an excellent centre-half, had many of us wincing with incredulity. Don't misunderstand me friends, I've seen the games. We all know the man can tackle and is excellent in the air. It's Steven Gerrard - he'll pass the ball forty yards, he's big and he's f***in' hard. I've commented often, of late, on how Gerrard was playing like an auxiliary centre back. This does not mean it's a good idea.
Yet for all the griping and hand-wringing, there are very few who believed we could dispense with Gerrard's services altogether. He is too good and Rodgers' squad is too short on excellence for that kind of rashness. Now, however, Liverpool must endure a difficult festive run in the absence of their talismanic veteran. And only now, will we be able to deduce the true effect and importance of our number eight. As rumours whirl as to the severity of Jordan Henderson's knock, and without first-teamers like Daniel Sturridge and José Enrique to call on, the depth of character in this current squad will be tested to the full, beginning on Sunday at White Hart Lane.
Simon Mignolet, whose form has been exemplary since signing in the summer, has no doubts about the resolve and moxy of his colleagues. For the Belgian, there is little reason to panic, despite the absence of reliable performers. He is bullish about the capacity of others to share the burden and maintain the club's pleasingly lofty position.
"We have other leaders in the team as well," Mignolet averred. "We have a decent enough squad to deal with injuries, to cope with those kind of things. I am sure someone else will be ready in the dressing room if the gaffer asks them to play. Every game we go into hopeful of three points. We will go to Tottenham and be positive."
This nebulous concept of leadership has always been a puzzle to your scribbler. The traditional idea of a captain in British football has never been the kind of example that Steven Gerrard has supplied to the team. His inspirational qualities arise out of the example he sets with his performance. To that end, Liverpool has had many leaders in recent memory -- Sami Hyppia, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso and even the slightly unhinged Javier Masherano, have all supplied inspiration, and therefore, leadership, in much the same fashion as Gerrard, as well as being considerably more vocal than the current captain.
Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger are players of character but neither can claim to be playing their best football at present. Similar sentiments could be expressed about Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson. Luis Suarez is the most inspirational of all our players but one must remember that Mr. Hyde lurks threateningly at all times, and it was whilst he donned the armband at Ajax that Otman Bakkal was the entrée his first public human dining experience.
Joe Allen has made tentative steps towards redemption in red but it is surely too early on that particular path to expect him to shoulder the onerous role of midfield general. Jordan Henderson, a man who has endured innumerable barbs and emerged as a nailed-on starter, knows a lot about the display of character in adversity. One hopes his injury will not minimise the impact he is very capable of making over the next few games.
The next sequence of matches will test the true bona fides Liverpool's Champions League aspirations. Who then, will step up in Liverpool's hour of need? I think we all know the answer. What's the story, Kolo Touré?