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The Third Degree: Into the Black

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In the midst of everyone's favourite pastime — the dreaded International Break — we introduce The Third Degree, a look at three solutions to a problem facing Liverpool. Today, The Third Degree offers a tribute of its own to the recently retired Three Lions' captain and Liverpool's own burning star.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno

The year was 1979 when Neil Young spoke candidly of his own perceived insignificance; "it's better to burn out than to fade away," he insisted. As the notorious punk movement continued to rapidly gain traction, the legendary Canadian rocker possessed the self-awareness to know that his relevance was diminishing. His words would be forever immortalized when quoted in Kurt Cobain's suicide note - the Nirvana front man was another who subscribed to this theory - albeit under much more tragic circumstances.

At Liverpool Football Club, one man is in danger of outstaying his welcome. Almost sixteen years have past since Steven Gerrard made his competitive debut for his boyhood club, and he has largely remained the heart and soul of the side for much of that time. Between the dramatic goals, his spirited influence and that FA Cup final, it has become increasingly difficult to envisage a time without Steven Gerrard at the helm, but recent evidence suggests his continued presence could rather be to the club's detriment.

Since the mid-way point of last season, Gerrard's role has evolved. Gone are the days of his surging forward runs and clever interplay; now he's charged with shielding the back four, although tactical nous was never the strongest aspect of his game. It worked, for the most part, and the sentimental Scouser almost claimed a first Premier League title from his new perch. Television pundits declared that Brendan Rodgers' decision to deploy his stalwart captain as a deep-lying playmaker was a revelation, and Gerrard finished the season second only to teammate Luis Suarez in terms of notching assists.

Defensive frailties continued to haunt Liverpool, though, and Gerrard's responsibility for which was overlooked as The Reds' title challenge slipped at the final hurdle. For all of his attacking swagger, the midfield maestro had failed in the simplest of tasks - protect those behind him from becoming overexposed. The clinical nature of Liverpool's forward line could only do so much as Martin Skrtel and company shipped fifty goals between them. Their failings ultimately came back to bite them.

Not a lot has changed for the Merseyside outfit since then, despite the inclusion of Dejan Lovren to, in theory, organize the systematically broken defense. Luis Suarez departed for Spain and Daniel Sturridge is yet to return from the injury he sustained on international duty back in August, and without the Premier League's two top scorers of last season, there is no threat left to counteract Liverpool's leaky defense. As their inability to convincingly win football matches continues to plague them, fingers of blame are being cast in various directions but, with contract negotiations on the horizon, most would agree that all work and no play has made Steven a dull boy. It's time to take a look at three potential changes that could stop Gerrard from fading away and risk tarnishing his Liverpool legacy.

THE FIRST DEGREE: FORWARD THINKING

The idea behind shifting Steven Gerrard to a deeper lying role was simply to preserve his playing career. Less running means less recovery and, as such, Brendan Rodgers could count on his captain at the highest level for many years to come. It would be a sound and logical thought process if Gerrard were still the impact player he was a few years ago, but he isn't. He's arguably become a liability. Not only does he fail to provide adequate cover for his teammates, but he also restricts the movement of his midfield partners, notably Jordan Henderson, who seems hesitant to venture too far forward for fear of leaving his senior stranded at the mercy of the Premier League's most prominent attackers.

This constraint has meant that Liverpool's high pressure, a prerequisite of last season's form, has largely been forsaken in favour of accommodating the captain, but is such a drastic approach really required? Much of Steven Gerrard's success has hinged on his prowess from an advanced position, leaving defenders trailing in his wake. There were even signs of Gerrard rolling back the years this season in the latter stages against West Bromich Albion, as he moved further forward and instantly demonstrated an understanding with the misfiring Mario Balotelli. It makes sense, then, at a time when Liverpool's strike force is failing to click, that one of the most well-regarded attacking players of his generation comes full circle.

The counterargument is that, at 34 years of age, Gerrard doesn't have the energy to revise his role as Captain Fantastic anymore, but wouldn't it be much more beneficial for the former talisman to draw on whatever drive he has left to go out in one last blaze of glory? Is reinventing Steven Gerrard for the sake of prolonging his career the wisest option for Liverpool in both the short and long term? Remember, it's better to burn out than to fade away. Besides, if protection is really necessary, maybe there's a better way...

THE SECOND DEGREE: ROTATION, ROTATION, ROTATION

If it's really true that Steven Gerrard doesn't have it in him to go full throttle anymore, then Liverpool already have a wealth of options to compensate for his absence and, as evidenced during his brief injury last season, perhaps even function better as a unit. Rather than teach an old dog new tricks, perhaps a more effective way of counteracting Stevie's rusting limbs would be to give him the rest he so visibly requires. The handling of an aging club icon has always been a problematic and polarizing experience, and accusations have been made that the legend of Steven Gerrard has grown larger than both the club and its manager. There's not much room for sentiment in football, but questioning whether Brendan Rodgers has earned the clout to bench a player of Gerrard's standing is a perfectly valid concern.

The precedent, it has to be said, has already been set. Bill Shankly, by his own admission, had left it too late to break up his first title winning side, but eventually deemed it necessary to phase out Ronnie Yeats and Ian St. John, and both were younger than Steven Gerrard at that point. Sir Alex Ferguson's sustained success at Manchester United hinged on his cautionary approach to reducing his players' contributions after their expiry date. More recently, Frank Lampard was determined surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge and even Xavi, one of the greatest players in modern times, has found himself on the Barcelona fringes.

Nobody is suggesting that Steven Gerrard's career is over, but it has to be said that he has exceeded his best before date. Maybe the time has come for Captain Fantastic to take a step back and allow the club's next generation to prosper. He undoubtedly still has a role to play - his leadership and experience were vital during last season's title hilt - but whether that role includes ninety minutes or more a week is up for debate. Could a revitalized Steven Gerrard provide more of an impact as a substitute, or offer an alternative choice for Brendan Rodgers to ponder when the congested fixture schedule dictates that a change may be needed? His recent trials as a defensive midfielder means Gerrard has the experience to fill any number of midfield positions when called upon.

THE THIRD DEGREE: WILDCARD

Just over a fortnight ago, quotes emerged suggesting that Steven Gerrard would consider playing elsewhere if he failed to secure a new Liverpool contract. While this was clearly just a bargaining chip as he reportedly seeks a three year extension, let's take a moment to humour this notion for just a minute. For a man that has already rejected proposals from Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan throughout his career, where else could he ply his trade if not for the club he's remained loyal to, even in the face of Liverpool's perennial underachievement?

Ah, Major League Soccer, of course.

For so long, North America looked upon football with disdain, but recent years have seen a surge in popularity, in no small thanks to David Beckham's highly publicized move to Los Angeles Galaxy. Since then, other former European superstars have followed his lead as clubs look to utilize the Designated Player Rule. Could Steven Gerrard be the next man to finish his playing career in the United States?

Even thinking about Gerrard wearing anything other than Liverpool red may seem blasphemous, but there is method to the madness. After spending so long as the focal point of the team, Steven's contributions are in danger of petering out. As his beloved club look to strike a balance between success and sustainability, Brendan Rodgers has overseen somewhat of a youth movement, while Gerrard has already entered the twilight of his career. Like so many before him, the one-club player could find a new lease of life stateside and once again become the solitary driving force behind his team. Rumours have already linked him with free transfers to Toronto FC and NASL's New York Cosmos in the summer, and while such a prospect remains entirely unlikely, it could provide Steven Gerrard with the platform to renew his relevance.

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It's becoming increasingly apparent, as Steven Gerrard moves onto the final chapter of his storied career, that something needs to change. While the three options outlined above seem to be the most feasible, they are by no means the only way forward. The Third Degree brings this edition to a close by posing the following question to you, the reader: what, if anything, would you change in regards to Steven Gerrard's role moving forward with Liverpool Football Club?