Previous Match Infographics: Hull City (a), West Brom (a), Newcastle (h), Blackburn [FA Cup] (a), Arsenal (a), Manchester United (h), Swansea (a), Burnley (h), Manchester City (h), Besiktas (a), Southampton (a), Besiktas (h), Tottenham (h), Everton (a), West Ham (h), Chelsea (a) [League Cup], Chelsea (h) [League Cup], Villa (a), Sunderland (a), Leicester (h), Swansea (h), Burnley (a), Arsenal (h), Manchester United (a), Basel (h), Sunderland (h), Leicester (a), Stoke (h), Ludogorets (a), Crystal Palace (a), Chelsea (h), Real Madrid (a), Newcastle (a), Hull (h), Real Madrid (h), QPR (a), West Brom (h), Basel (a), Everton (h), West Ham (a), Ludogorets (h), Aston Villa (h), Tottenham (a), Manchester City (a), Southampton (h)
As always, match data from Stats Zone, except shot location from Squawka and average player position from ESPN FC.
This is the second time that Gerrard led Liverpool in both shots and chances created in a single match since I started doing these infographics, since Rodgers became manager. The only other time was the 2-1 home victory against West Brom in October, a match incredibly similar to yesterday's. On that day, he took three shots, the same amount as Lambert and Balotelli, and created five chances from a deep-lying midfield role, with far fewer defensive responsibilities than that position usually entails because of both opposition and venue.
Part of the reason he's usually failed to post such high totals is due to playing with Sturridge, Suarez, and Coutinho: the first two shot-monsters, the latter two chance creation monsters. If you're playing with Luis Suarez – who only misses matches through suspension, never through injury – chances are you aren't leading the side in shots or key passes (unless you're Messi). Part of it is due to the position Gerrard's played in the last few seasons. And part is obviously due to age; time makes fools of every single one of us.
Does this mean Gerrard had a good game on Saturday? Well, yeah. Liverpool didn't really need him to protect the back four, so often where he's struggled as the deepest midfielder. And Liverpool did need him to lead the side in shots and key passes, despite playing as the deepest of the front six. No one else, except maybe Coutinho – who had every shot bar the opening goal blocked – seemed capable of doing so.
Gerrard's taken six or more shots and created three or more chances just one other time in the last three seasons: Liverpool's 5-1 win at Norwich in December 2013, a match where Suarez took more shots, and Coutinho, Johnson and Suarez created more chances. That was a very different Liverpool team than this Liverpool team. Coutinho remains a vital cog, but one of those players isn't at Liverpool anymore and the other has fallen off an even steeper cliff than Gerrard has.
Put simply, even in his dotage, Liverpool don't have a match-winner like Steven Gerrard in its squad anymore.
With Sturridge perpetually injured, Coutinho's the only other who comes close these days. See 2-1 City, 2-1 Bolton, 1-0 Blackburn in the last few months. But that's still a fairly recent phenomenon and he's still not consistent enough in front of goal, too reliant on often-speculative shots from distance that could either travel into the top corner or 20 rows up into some poor sap's face.
Lallana pressed well and was tidy in possession. Sterling, deployed on the right, was more of a passenger than usual, but pressed similarly well and at least attempted to take players on. You couldn't help but see their respective misses just after halftime as glaring demonstrations that they're either not ready or not the answer.
And while Rickie Lambert was a vast improvement on Balotelli, he's certainly not the answer either. Yes, he made Liverpool better just by being more involved in the play; compare Lambert's passes to Balotelli's at West Brom and Hull. But his pass accuracy (59%), shooting (two on-target shots easily saved, one off, one blocked), and general lack of mobility (no tackles or interceptions, just one attempted unsuccessful dribble) highlight his deficiencies as well.
Gerrard's certainly not able to do it against every opponent, whether their tactics force him into a more defensive role (Villa in the FA Cup semifinal, among many others) or because he just doesn't have it in his locker every day anymore (at West Brom two weeks ago). And QPR certainly helped by being quite bad: allowing the most shots Liverpool have taken when playing four-at-the-back (only the 27 in the 2-2 against Arsenal saw more this season), making just six interceptions despite Liverpool's vast supremacy in possession, creating just four chances and putting just two shots on-target.
But Gerrard's still capable of it once in a (great) while, and that's more than you can say for some of the players currently at the club. And that's why Rodgers still tries to shoehorn him into the side, even when it seems to be to Liverpool's detriment. And that's why Liverpool will still miss him next season, no matter the issues his inclusion creates.
Liverpool need players capable of grabbing the game by the throat. Liverpool need players capable of scoring game-winning goals, or any goals for that matter. It's why Liverpool have so vainly struggled in the previous two season-killing matches, it's why Liverpool have so vainly struggled throughout this season. And it's something Liverpool desperately need to remedy next season, whether through transfers or by current "key" players finally stepping up. Ideally both.