Armchair Pundit

Do Liverpool still need Steven Gerrard?

Alex Chick

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As he watches Liverpool's spring revival from the sidelines, you could forgive Steven Gerrard for feeling a little nervous.

Four months into the second coming of King Kenny, Liverpool fans are starting to think the unthinkable: Do we still need Stevie G?

Could the man whose colossal influence has dominated Anfield for a decade really be surplus to requirements?

It is a notion that borders on the heretical for some, but it stems from the club's remarkable upturn in fortunes without their captain.

Gerrard has played only six of 22 games under Dalglish, and none since March 6.

In that time, Liverpool have risen from relegation contenders to possible European qualifiers.

Although they look set to just miss out on Europa League qualification, that may be no bad thing given the corrosive effect this season's bleak European campaign had on them.

It is not so much results under Dalglish that have caught the eye (11 wins in 22 games is good, but not spectacular), but their style of play and above all the mood about the club.

The Kop has been transformed from a cauldron of discontent to a place of joy and optimism.

For the first time in two decades, Liverpool might be the most expressive, expansive team in the Premier League.

At the heart of it is the spectacular Luis Suarez - an absolute bargain at £22.8m - but the previously-maligned Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and even Lucas Leiva have all blossomed, playing with freedom and a genuine sense of enjoyment.

More than anything, though, they look like a proper team.

Two major factors facilitated the transformation under Dalglish; the decision to swap Torres for Suarez and Andy Carroll; and Gerrard's injury, which forced Liverpool to find a different way of playing.

No longer is everything going through Gerrard - the threat comes from all parts. Creativity is encouraged, and the team's mantra is no longer simply 'give it to Stevie'.

Ever since Gerrard bludgeoned Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005, this has been his team.

No problem when he was among the leading handful of players in the world, and had top-quality foils in Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres.

If your skipper is bashing in a dozen late winners a season, it is natural to give him the ball. But what happens when the Roy of the Rovers heroics stop?

Earlier this season, with Gerrard declining, Alonso a distant memory and Torres present in body only, the result was a catastrophic slide to the nether reaches of the Premier League table.

Nobody in their right mind can argue that Roy Hodgson is a bad manager, but he was in charge of a miserable side that leant on an out-of-sorts Gerrard who could no longer carry the load.

Gerrard turns 31 this month, and while he remains club captain and a valuable player, he must accept he is no longer Liverpool's kingpin.

He is certainly not obsolete, but neither is he essential.

Jay Spearing is only a fraction the player of Gerrard in his prime, but his first instinct when he gets the ball is to pass it to a team-mate. His first instinct when he gives the ball away is to chase back and recover it. He is a team player.

Too often Gerrard looks to pull off the spectacular instead of finding better-placed colleagues. Now his supporting cast have proven themselves more than able, to continue that trend would be unforgivable.

He must learn to adapt - and given his and Frank Lampard's decade-long failure to dovetail in the same England midfield, you have to wonder whether he can.

Ultimately, Gerrard is an intelligent, gifted player with a compelling reason to scale back his role. If the consequence of playing a smaller role in a greater team is silverware, then he will gladly make the sacrifice.

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