There's little question that Steven Gerrard is one of the best to ever wear the Liverpool shirt. He's won everything he can win except a league title, he's been the captain for a decade, and he's been at the heart of some of the biggest moments in club history.
Unfortunately, time is not his ally. At 34 years old, Gerrard is in the twilight of his career and has shown clear and heart-wrenching signs of decline over the past several years. He's not the same all-action god of football that he once was. Injuries and the inexorable march of days have sapped much of who Gerrard once was away, a reality that fans can sadly no longer ignore.
A season ago, Brendan Rodgers moved Gerrard back even deeper in midfield than he had been before, converting him in to a quasi-regista DM role in an effort to save his legs and get more mileage out of his captain. The adjustment wasn't always smooth, especially from a defensive standpoint, but on a whole it worked out well for Liverpool in the form of enhanced offensive output. Now with more high-pressure matches on the docket this season thanks to a return to the Champions League, what else can Rodgers do to get the best out of Gerrard this season when it's needed most?
Well, in short... don't play him as much.
Even with a more constrained role on the pitch, Gerrard struggled with fatigue at times last season when the fixtures ran a little thick. Adding in six (and hopefully more!) high-pressure Champions League matches won't help that situation any. While Rodgers has typically tried to use Gerrard for every minute he's available for in the last two years, that's simply not going to be a functional plan moving forward.
That's going to mean making some tough choices. With a lot more midweek matches coming, Rodgers is going to have to make some tough choices to keep Gerrard fresh. That means probably no domestic cup matches. That means getting the weekend off before Champions League ties. That means if Liverpool are in a tough run and are facing a team low in the table, Gerrard sits the bench to rest his legs.
The fans probably won't like it, but if they want to see Gerrard at the best of what he can do these days, it's the right course of action. We all know that if Gerrard could play every minute of every game that he would, but he's not 24 any more. Hell, he's not even on the right side of 30 any more, and hasn't been in a long time.
In reality, this probably should have happened already. Being without European matches last season, though, and the move to a new role that required less running let Rodgers and Gerrard skate by without having to face that just yet, but they can't hide from the decision any more.
We also found out late in the season that Gerrard desperately needs a running shield for him to be effective in his new role. When Liverpool were without Jordan Henderson, Gerrard was a complete liability in defense. Henderson needs to be practically handcuffed to Gerrard in terms of lineup choices, though the additions of Emre Can and to some extent Adam Lallana should help ease that reliance somewhat. We got a glimpse of what a Gerrard-Henderson-Can midfield is capable of against Olympiakos on Sunday, and it was pretty.
The improvements in that shield don't change the fact that Gerrard just can't play all the time any more. We all wish he could, but the sad reality is that he can't. But if instead of playing 35-40 matches with 15 or more of them having him look exhausted and out of step, he plays 25-30 fresh and energetic matches, that's a net gain for Liverpool, especially with the depth improvements made this summer. With Can, Lucas Leiva, and Joe Allen around, Liverpool can still put out a good lineup even without Gerrard's influence.
Please, Brendan. Do the right thing. Rest Gerrard. Don't run him in to the ground again. It'll work out better for your side, I promise.