One of the recurring themes of this season for Liverpool has been disappointing performances from Steven Gerrard. He's been played far more often than his legs can seem to take at his 34 years of age, and that's left the Liverpool hero often looking exhausted and unable to cope with the pace of games. Last weekend, though, Gerrard was only used as a late substitute against Stoke City, with Brendan Rodgers looking to have a fresher version of Stevie G available today against Leicester City.
It worked. Gerrard's form was a little up-and-down in the first half, but he was far better in the second half than he's been in any second half of a match this season. His energy levels were clearly higher, he was more active in midfield, and his goal had a bit of the classic Gerrard-the-poacher to it.
"I thought he was outstanding tonight," Rodgers told the press after the match. "He had great energy and freshness in his legs. "[For the goal] the ball comes out to him and there aren't too many out there better in that position. He showed great composure for the finish. His contribution to the game was vital for us."
While obviously Leicester aren't the most intimidating opponents, this was a picture of a much smarter way to use Gerrard at this stage in his career. Against a side that presses hard and is more physical defensively, keep Gerrard on the bench and use him as a sub. Against teams that aren't so rough and will leave him space, have Gerrard start the match with more energy in his legs to pull strings with.
While many questioned whether Rodgers would ever see this as a reality in recent weeks, it seems that he does understand exactly what Gerrard needs now:
"At this stage of his career, it's about the level of the game. He's a very important player for us. Like you saw tonight, he's not 24 anymore. You have to do that with players at this part of their career. So for me it's about mapping out the rest of the season for him and looking at the games to play him in. That's what you have to do as a manager - plan forward."
-Source: LFC Official site
Despite calls from some notable former players after the match to start Gerrard as often as possible, hopefully Rodgers looks at the results of how he handled Gerrard this week and resists the urge to start his captain in every single match. His legs just can't take that much action any more, and with the team struggling to get back in to the race for the top four places in the table, the need to use the squad efficiently is higher than ever.