One of the best performances by Liverpool this season was their 5-0 win away against Spurs, which gave some indication that the club might be better off without Steven Gerrard playing. His return a few weeks later, and the team’s recent form, squashes that premise, although it did take some changes for Brendan Rodgers to make him important even without being the main set piece taker.
Set pieces is usually something that never goes away. Of his seven league goals this season, five have come from the penalty spot and another from a free kick. His only open play goal came with a header, and most of his 10 assists have also come from corners or set pieces, demonstrating his excellent crossing skills.
In the 3-2 win over Fulham it was a genius Steven Gerrard pass that found Sturridge on the break, and you can say Sturridge was the one who set up Gerrard’s winner. The striker made the most of a bad challenge in the box to win Liverpool a penalty in injury time, which Gerrard converted for the win.
No longer physically capable of being a box to box midfielder, covering a huge area on the pitch without letting it affect his fatigue or the team’s quality, something had to be done about Gerrard. Rodgers didn’t want to leave him out of the lineup, especially with Joe Allen injured as well, and Lucas unable to stay healthy. When Allen/Lucas were healthy while Sturridge was out, Gerrard playing a slightly forward position in a three-man midfielder wasn’t something that could have harmed the team.
However, the 2-2 draw against Aston Villa was a two-man midfield debacle, which prompted the next change for Liverpool. Sturridge stays in the lineup, and Liverpool have a very attacking front four, but Steven Gerrard sits just on top of the centre backs, leaving the much more mobile and younger Jordan Henderson to do all the running. Coutinho moving to the middle instead of playing as an outright winger, while either Sturridge or Suarez switch on the wing, took care of the width issue.
This doesn’t make Liverpool impervious to problems: As Kolo Toure has shown in the draw against West Brom and the tricky match at Craven Cottage, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho can’t come back soon enough. Aly Cissokho is far from being the perfect left back and the same goes for Jon Flanagan, but he’s moving in the right direction.
Liverpool are in the title race, and even have something of an edge without European competition to get in their way, unlike Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. However, they still have to juggle the FA Cup and a shorter squad than the rest of their competition, which means that one injury will make the entire house of cards fall from the shaky foundations.
This is a great season for Liverpool, even if it doesn’t end with a championship belt. But last night’s win at Fulham and the overall feeling burning through Gerrard of now or never (at least for him, and maybe a couple of other players) might actually help them do what previously seemed impossible, and somehow finish this season with their hands on the Premier League championship.