My apologies for the lengthy absence, and while Ruffgrain.com is still some way away from being back in full swing, I thought it best to get some things off my chest – chief among them being Liverpool’s mistreatment of Steven Gerrard of late.
Perhaps ‘mistreatment’ is a little harsh, but following the Anfield hero’s statement that he would have stayed if offered a contract sooner, does leave something of a bitter aftertaste. Simultaneously, I do feel that Gerrard has been off the boil in the early part of the season and is now showing glimpses of a return to traditional form. It is thus little surprise that the club held back an offer to retain his services in the wake of (comparatively) poor form over the first half of the season.
But his FA Cup brace against fourth-tier AFC Wimbledon was inspired. Ricky Lambert was largely anonymous, while Liverpool’s attack through Coutinho and Markovic down the left became somewhat predictable … step forward Steven Gerrard! His desire to win a header and risk injury in the first half, coupled with a sublime second half direct free kick was ample demonstration that his heart is still with Liverpool Football Club – at least until the end of the season.
His departure for US soil, then, does raise a question about who will assume the reins in dead-ball situations when the 2015-16 season kicks off. Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho are very good footballers, but I somehow feel that neither has Gerrard’s set-piece prowess – and one would have to travel far and wide to find a cooler head from twelve yards out.
The simple facts are that Steven Gerrard’s departure will leave a gaping chasm in Liverpool – both in terms of skill and leadership. This then begs the question of whether Jordan Henderson has what it takes to pull the team up from the bootstraps, in true Stevie G style, when the chips are down and the team needs it most?
The thing is that Liverpool FC have always had at least one true great to call upon at a given moment to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat: Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Peter Beardsley, Ian Rush & John Barnes, Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, and more recently Fernando Torres and Luis Suarez, with Steven Gerrard the last of that line.
When Michael Owen left Liverpool to join Real Madrid in 2004, I really felt that the club would disappear into obscurity, but Gerrard assumed the reins and drove the club onward and upward. Owen must have kicked himself for leaving the club a year before he could be a part of the delirium that was Istanbul 2005, but be that as it may, the club was able to rely on another home-grown talent to keep them afloat.
So who is in line to follow in the footsteps of those mentioned above? New skipper, Henderson shows promise but has much to prove yet, and while Jordan Ibe and Raheem Sterling are prodigious talents, they are (I think) far too young to lay claim to the Anfield throne.
Then again, perhaps Liverpool’s success has less to do with a single helmsman than it has to do with a strong spine of the team. In both the Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard era, the club had Sander Westerveld or Pepe Reina in goal, Jamie Carragher in front of them, Gerrard in the middle, and a world-class striker up front able to turn half-chances into goals.
In the Bob Paisley coaching era (Liverpool’s most successful), the club had Ray Clemence in goal, Phil Thompson and Alan Hansen in defence, Steve Heighway, Terry McDermott and Jimmy Case in the middle of the park, and either Kenny Dalglish or Kevin Keegan spearheading the attack.
And that may just be the key ingredient missing from Liverpool’s current crop: the goalkeeper (Simon Mignolet) does not command his box or marshal his defence effectively, the defenders themselves are average at best, they have wonderful talent in midfield but sadly no-one capable of hanging onto the ball and releasing it at the right time (see Xabi Alonso for reference), and while Daniel Sturridge sits out they also lack a truly world-class striker – and it remains to be seen if Sturridge is able to take up from where he left off before getting injured when the current season was still in its infancy.
Apologies – coming back to the existing midfield, it’s not that Henderson is incapable of holding or passing the ball at the right time, it’s just that others before him had done it a little better, but he does show glimpses of sublime ability every so often. Lucas is, once again, something of a weak link in that he often gets caught in possession or on the receiving end of a yellow card for a rash tackle, and Joe Allen still gets a vote of no confidence as far as I am concerned.
Going further back (again), Jon Flanagan is sorely missed; Martin Skrtel is better in attack than in his primary function, as is Alberto Moreno; Dejan Lovren’s form is eratic; Mamadou Sakho takes far too many risks at the back; Glen Johnson’s best days are too far behind him; and Kolo Toure wouldn’t be more sure-footed on sheet ice.
The bottom line is that Liverpool will need a saviour come next season, a singular figure that binds the rest of the squad into something formidable … either that, or they need to stop buying attacking midfielders and strikers, and spend some real money on a leaky defence and an angry goalie not afraid to deliver a telling-off when required.
Fare thee well Steven Gerrard. Come to think of it, goalkeeper is the only position Stevie G hasn’t featured in in a Liverpool shirt – food for thought perhaps?