Forgive me if this comes off like the knee-jerk reaction we've gotten used to seeing after a player or team performs well after criticism. I definitely was set to defend Steven Gerrard and most of these thoughts were already in place before the game against Leicester City. It's just that Stevie G's performance made my argument that much easier, so I figured we'd piggyback off it.
Steven Gerrard isn't the player he once was. That much is obvious.
Gone are the lung-busting runs, sliding tackles and smashing goals of old. Those actions were a big part of Gerrard's game, and they were nowhere to be seen in his new role for the Reds these past few seasons.
The game against Leicester City wasn't typical Gerrard either, but it showed the influence he can have when he's placed in a more advanced role. Liverpool's problems, which we've discussed here, are partly down to the regression of the Liverpool No. 8, and that has led to questions about his importance to the squad moving forward.
One point of contention is whether Liverpool would be better off without Gerrard in the lineup or not. Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. While some fans may be ready to let the younger generation take the lead, with Gerrard there as support, it is, perhaps, too difficult a time for such a transition. Despite their growth in recent seasons, the likes of Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling still need someone to lead them, especially in what looks to be a very competitive season as far as the Champions League race goes. There are few other members of this team who offer the leadership, experience and winning mentality of the Liverpool legend.
Another, and better, alternative would be to change the role for Gerrard as it's now clear that he is not cut out to be the deepest midfielder in Brendan Rodgers' setup. That may present another problem when it comes to rotation and selecting the best formation for his players. Who doesn't like to have options though?
It is likely that Rodgers will then be able to switch between a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3 and a 4-1-2-1-2/4-3-1-2 formation, with Gerrard able to fill a role in all three formations.
Gerrard is now 34 years old, and his ability to be a driving force and constant presence all over the pitch is no longer there. However, as the saying goes "Form is temporary, class is permanent." Gerrard's vision and passing quality are still intact, even though he may not be able to handle playing European and domestic football each week.
There should be no shame in that for the player. He and his manager have other examples to look at across Europe for players who have prolonged their careers through role-changes or judicious use of playing time. A role as "super-sub" may not beckon as yet for Gerrard as it does with his most obvious contemporary, Frank Lampard, but more time on the pine will help him and the club.
You could never say that Gerrard was an accomplished defensive midfielder despite his tackling prowess in his younger years. His box-to-box style was the reason he contributed in the variety of ways that he did each season. That's partly the reason he was lauded so much early on for his displays at the base of Liverpool's midfield. It was a role not many expected to see him play, and he did it well thanks to the skills he still had available.
Those skills, in addition to his experience and leadership, are still very vital for Liverpool, as is his overall quality striking a ball on set-pieces of all sorts. Rodgers added a lot of different options during the summer and believed his captain was still the best option at defensive midfield. Not so.
Lucas Leiva's return to form helps sort out that predicament a little as it is obvious the defence needs someone accustomed to the role in front of them to give more solidity. A January addition, whether a player of similar or better quality to Lucas, will be necessary, especially if Liverpool are still involved in European football.
A trio of Leiva, Gerrard, Henderson, with the rotation of players like Emre Can and Joe Allen in the midfield would certainly allow Gerrard more freedom and prompt better performances, as it did against Leicester City.
As previously mentioned, that solution also presents a problem for Rodgers. The Liverpool manager will then need to master the art of rotation in attack with Sterling, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and others vying for spots. Plus there's the decision to go with two forwards, as will likely be the case when both Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli are fully fit.
Gerrard is not the same player who was so highly praised by Ronaldinho in 2007 and Zinedine Zidane in 2009, but he can still have a similar impact. His form needs to return on the pitch and that goes hand in hand, surprisingly with a diminished or, if you prefer, very defined role. The majority of his duties should be focused on the attacking side of things.
Off the pitch, he would undoubtedly remain the leader in the dressing room, aside from possibly Kolo Toure, with his passion and knowledge of the club spreading to the younger generation. Liverpool fans and the club need look no further than the upcoming European tie against Basel to see why Gerrard is still necessary.
It brings back memories of the Reds glorious 2004/05 Champions League campaign where Liverpool were in a similar situation heading into the final game of the group stages against Olympiakos. Who provided the telling contribution, and led his team to a Champions League title, when all was said and done?
Steven Gerrard, Gerrard.