13 November 2006

Oh captain, my captain...

I’m sick of reading nonsense, and the only real reason I’m adding to it is because I’m partly guilty as well. All I’ve read since yesterday’s game is complaints about Steven Gerrard and about where he’s being played, and it’s gone past honest discussion over the team and the tactics and into the realm of personal attacks.

First, his position. It was odd to see reservations about him playing on the wing earlier in the season, as he played mostly on the right last season, scored 23 goals, and was named player of the season by the fans. People expected more from Pennant due to the sum paid for him, but as Rafa would say, his signing was all about adding “possibilities.” Alonso and Sissoko are clearly Rafa’s preferred central midfield, especially in games like Arsenal away, because of the roles he asks of them. Sissoko is there to break up play, and Alonso is there to open up the game with his passing. Benitez derives more of his attack from the wingers: ideally, the pace, trickery, and shooting of players like Kewell, Garcia, and Gonzalez, and the overlap given by Finnan and Riise. Which is why it’s made sense to put Gerrard on the right, even though he has basically a free role when Liverpool’s at their best.

Momo’s injury has created a conundrum. On paper, it appears Stevie should be moved to the center, with Garcia or Pennant taking his place on the right. I still don’t know if this would have been the best plan against Arsenal. Zenden’s role in the center was largely restricted on Sunday. He played the same position Momo would have, and I believe it’s a position that would have limited Gerrard. I wasn’t surprised with the line-up that went out at Arsenal; it was consistent with Rafa’s philosophy, especially this season. It was a safe line-up, with the two central midfielders sitting deeper than Gerrard likes to. There are always questions when the plan doesn’t work, which it obviously didn’t yesterday.

Say Gerrard plays in the center, and Arsenal still gets 2 or 3 goals from defensive lapses. What is said then? Does Liverpool get beaten more often down the right flank because Pennant’s not as good defensively? Is Gerrard effective enough playing a mainly defensive role in the middle? Does Liverpool play a completely different way all together to suit him? What if Crouch gets back onsides for the disallowed goal, or Arsenal doesn’t get a goal before the end of the first half; it certainly could have changed the final outcome. That’s soccer.

I still think we’ll see a lot of Gerrard in the center against weaker opposition during Momo’s absence. In fact, I expect he and Alonso will start as the central pairing against Middlesbrough Saturday, when Liverpool will look to control more of the game, and offer more in attack, because, honestly, Boro’s nowhere near the threat on the counter that Arsenal is. No more, no less. Unfortunately, the media will see this as an affirmation of their questioning of Liverpool’s tactics; I think it would have been the plan whether they won or lost at Arsenal.

Second, the attacks on Gerrard himself. Yes, it’s seemed he’s put his head down quicker when the going gets tough this season, and seemed he’s more prone to snap at teammates. He’s going through a tough spell at the moment, but it’s not as if he’s the only one.

I don’t claim to know all the hot gossip; it’s nice, but weird, living on the other side of the ocean. You vaguely get the rumors thanks to the internet, and don’t have to deal with a lot of the impulsive moaning if you don’t want to, but don’t get nearly all the salacious details and “inside information.”

Gerrard is the captain. Gerrard not being the captain isn’t an option. While I’ll admit (and this is as far as I’m willing to go) there may be players I consider better suited to be captain in an ideal world, as it stands, Gerrard should be the captain. He still can be the most influential player, can still be one of the best midfielders in the world, and is the most likely to grab the game by the scruff of the neck when needed. Olympiakos, AC Milan, West Ham. Take the armband off him now? To teach him a lesson? When he’s already prone to sulking and the media is looking for a reason to start Lokomotiv London or Real Madrid transfer rumors? Come on now.

This is Liverpool. Remember how pleased everyone was last season when Crouch was supported during his long goal drought, despite whatever anyone wrote about him when he played for Liverpool or England, and finally came good? No one complains about his goal scoring record now, and he’s something of a cult hero for the national team. And now it seems some are lining up to take shots at Steven Gerrard. Steven Gerrard?

Honest criticism is fair, warranted, and expected, but I’m of the opinion there’s no one removed from criticism following the yesterday’s game, and it's counter-productive to focus on one player's performance. Gerrard not only seems to be singled out, but unfairly so, with far too many complaints not focused on his actual performance. I get too worked up over the media and anonymous complaints over the internet, to be sure. But I can’t believe some people are even having this discussion.

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