On Saturday, in an attempt to preserve a narrow lead and to avoid the chance Liverpool's ageing captain could become a defensive liability late on in this third game of the week, Brendan Rodgers set the clock back five years. He pushed Steven Gerrard up the field into the ten role he had arguably his best season as a Liverpool player.
It worked brilliantly, and though Gerrard's lack of movement when Liverpool didn't have the ball highlighted the player's attempts to conserve what energy he did have, with the ball he looked a dangerous attacking force. He also linked up well with Mario Balotelli, the two showing an instant understanding in the attacking third with their interplay and quick passing.
"You could see his quality and his ability to combine with Balotelli straight away," said Rodgers when asked about moving his captain up the pitch on Saturday. "Steven is a player who makes the game look simple, and Mario knows he was playing with one of the greats of the game. Mario is a guy who needs certain types of passes, and Steven is the sort of player who can provide them."
With Daniel Sturridge expected back after the international break, most will expect the manager to quickly move Gerrard back into the deeper role the manager has tried to force him into with mixed results over the past year. On any occasion when there's only one striker on the pitch, though, it wouldn't be entirely surprising to see Saturday's shift revisited.
It also wouldn't be a shock to see it again against a side that looks to aggressively man-mark Gerrard, or when just how much energy is left in his ageing legs becomes a question mark. In a deeper role, he has little choice in when and how much running he does, and at times he can simply look unable to muster up the energy to do the job required.
On Saturday, with Gerrard up the pitch, Liverpool's formation increasingly looked a 4-4-2 without the ball as the captain loitered high up the pitch—often he was stayed further forward than Balotelli, while the Italian striker frequently came deeper to harry West Brom's deep midfielders. High up the pitch, it was easy for him to get away with that. Deeper, it could have been disastrous.
"He definitely added something to our game in that position, though I feel he has been outstanding in the deeper position, too," added Rodgers. "It was refreshing to see the cleverness and brightness he brought, and that was his third tough game in a week."
Hopefully it's a sign that Rodgers may now be willing to move Gerrard around a bit based on circumstance, personnel, and opponent. It does sound as though the manager is at least open to the idea.
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