Brendan Rodgers’ plan to reinvent Steven Gerrard as a deep-lying playmaker in the Andrea Pirlo mould will not be put on hold despite the self-confessed disaster his captain suffered in the role before Liverpool salvaged a point against Aston Villa on Saturday – with the aid of a disputed penalty won by Luis Suarez.
“It didn’t work for myself or the team,” Gerrard admitted. “Villa put a lot of men around me and every time I tried to get the ball under control in the first half they swamped me. It wasn’t one of my better 45 minutes.”
Liverpool recovered from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 after Gerrard reverted to a more familiar attacking function, with Lucas Leiva coming off the bench to take his place in front of the back four. Yet Rodgers believes that 33-year-old Gerrard is capable of flourishing late in his career in the way that 34-year-old Pirlo still pulls the strings at Juventus. The plan, he says, will not be shelved.
“We never got the control in midfield against [Villa’s] diamond and could not build our play, so we needed to change the structure of the team,” Rodgers said. “But there is absolutely no question Steven can play the role and I don’t regard it as a setback, not at all.
“It is a mark of his identity as a player that he could influence the game in that offensive area. It just shows his importance to the team, with the pass he played to put Luis in [to win the penalty] and his composure to take the penalty under pressure. The system is irrelevant. Our style will always be to control and dominate games and at times this season we have had to be flexible and adaptable in our play. You have to give credit to the players in that they did that and got something from the game.”
Yet the fact remains that in a game and a half with Gerrard on his learning curve, Liverpool have conceded five goals and only a week after the 5-3 win at Stoke led Rodgers to talk about a title challenge, the gap between themselves and the leaders has been stretched from six points to eight. Should Everton win at West Bromwich Albion tonight, Liverpool will no longer even be in the top four.
Moreover, after the excursion to Bournemouth in the FA Cup, Everton are Liverpool’s next opponents, at Anfield a week tomorrow. Suddenly, the idea of a title bid seems somewhat optimistic. As Rodgers admitted, the pressure of trying to secure a place in the Champions League is great enough. It is assumed to be the minimum requirement spelled out to Rodgers at a rare meeting with club owner John W Henry on Saturday.
Villa went two goals up through Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke, both made by Gabriel Agbonlahor. Then Daniel Sturridge confirmed his well-being just before half-time by scoring his second goal in as many games since returning to fitness, before Suarez won a contentious spot kick to make possible the equalising goal.
Lucas may have solved Saturday’s dilemma but had to be replaced himself after 20 minutes because of a knee injury. The Brazilian, who was out for six months from November 2011, left Anfield on crutches.