Reports in England suggest that LA Galaxy star Steven Gerrard could be set for a return to Liverpool following discussions with the Anfield club’s new manager Jurgen Klopp.
The Independent’sSimon Hughes states that Klopp has been in frequent phone contact with the former Liverpool and England captain since his succeeding Brendan Rodgers last month and has determined that the 35-year-old’s legendary reputation and proven professionalism will yield a positive influence at the club’s Melwood training base.
In many respects the move seems logical.
Gerrard is idolized by the Kop, both for his outstanding achievements on the pitch and for his local connection to the club. It would be a considerable boon for Klopp’s already positive relationship with the Liverpool support if he were seen as the man responsible for returning a legend to the club.
After all, Gerrard’s departure under Rodgers was felt by many fans to be premature, and the player himself stated that he would have preferred to remain at Anfield beyond the end of last season.
But while there can be little doubt that Gerrard would be a welcome addition to Klopp’s coaching staff – a move entirely in keeping with Anfield’s traditional “boot room” promotion culture – the fact that The Independent reports he could be set to return as a player makes the move seem regressive.
One of Rodgers’ biggest challenges during his final season at Anfield was managing Gerrard’s decline.
The Northern Irishman had to strike a balance between appeasing fan sentiment by starting his captain and preventing Gerrard’s diminished athletic capacities from upsetting the balance of his midfield. Jose Mourinho might be seen as struggling with a similar dilemma in relation to John Terry at Chelsea and it was clear throughout the 2014/15 campaign that Liverpool functioned better without Gerrard in the starting side.
The Telegraph’s Rob Bagchi, for instance, observed that when the midfielder missed six matches between February 11 and March 8 last season, Liverpool posted a 100 percent win record compared with a 40.90 percent win rate in the 22 previous matches which the midfielder had played.
While such team stats can be perceived as an unfair reflection of an individual player’s contribution owing to the number of variables which inform collective performance (not least the quality of opposition faced with and without Gerrard), WhoScoreddata compiled specifically on Gerrard would seem to lend weight to the suggestion that he was in decline throughout his final season.
It is notable, for instance, that 14 of Gerrard’s 21 league goals across his last two seasons at Anfield came from the penalty spot, and where he contributed 13 assists in the 2013/14 campaign, he managed only one last season.
Perhaps more damagingly in light of the veteran’s reversion to a deeper-lying midfield role last term, Gerrard averaged more than one tackle fewer per game (1.8) than in 2013/14 (2.9), and his WhoScored rating fell from 7.77 two seasons ago to just 6.95 last time out.
For a manager who prides himself on playing “full-throttle” football characterized by high-energy Gegenpressing and ceaseless movement, the recruitment of a 35-year-old with severely limited physical attributes seems anathema.
Thore Haugstad noted on ESPN, for instance, that Klopp’s side ran a combined 116 kilometres during his debut draw against Tottenham. This made Liverpool the first team to have out run Spurs all season and they ran almost 10 kilometres more than was the case during Rodgers’ final game at Everton two weeks previously.
It is clear that Gerrard no longer possesses the athleticism required to fit into Klopp’s system and comments that the midfielder made on LA Galaxy’s website on Monday suggest that he, too, is aware of this.
Gerrard’s Liverpool future is on the sideline and there he and Klopp stand to forge a formidable partnership.
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