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2011-2012 Season Preview - Maybe We're Out Looking For Answers: What Can Liverpool Expect From Their Captain?

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Hopefully more of in uniform, at least.
Hopefully more of in uniform, at least.

Fucked if I know.

Anyone who can tell you different is lying or selling something, that's what the Dread Pirate Roberts would probably tell us. Stevie G has barely had any preseason training, will be out another months, and is coming off an operation that led to an infection in the place you'd probably least want it. We really don't know when he'll be fit.

And this isn't the Gerrard of earlier in his career who could walk off the treatment table, play a game and then the next one be ready to dominate again. He was 24 then, he's 31 now. Is he still able to recover the form and fitness that basically saw him drag the club along by himself for stretches that were far too many in number? We can't say for sure, but you'd have to lean to unlikely.

We have scant evidence from last year. Gerrard only made 23 appearances with seven goals, and three of those came as a sub against Napoli in the Europa League group stages. Injuries didn't help, but it seemed other than Fer...well, you know the dude, no one was as greatly affected by the Hodgson Mailaise (goes great on sourdough) than Gerrard. He didn't seem to have a position, a role, or any idea or inclination to help his team rise above the rot that had set in. Sometimes he was playing right along Lucas in a 4-4-2 which didn't get him close enough to goal. When Roy went away from his blanky of that formation, Gerrard was pushed up a little but not enough. Or when he was put in his full attacking role behind a striker, that striker's insistence on being a useless penis pretty much rendered Gerrard useless as well.

So when Kenny Dalglish took over, we thought at least he would get Gerrard where he needed to be. Well, problem was he only played six games under Kenny. Two of those were in the 3-4-2-1 days against Stoke and Chelsea, where Gerrard was one of the two behind the striker. This allowed him to shift out wide more, which I actually like as I still think he's dangerous from out there and can still whip in a menacing cross (cue Meireles's goal at Chelsea). The other match we can glean anything from was the home win over ManUre, where Gerrard was deployed with Lucas but behind Meireles-Kuyt-Maxi. But Gerrard didn't hesitate to get forward that game either.

The same conundrum exists this year. Where does Gerrard go? In the 4-2-2-2 formation that Kenny has broken out from time to time, he would seem a natural fit behind the front two and ahead of Charlie Adam and Lucas. Adam and Gerrard could reprise the understanding Gerrard and Xabi Alonso seemed to have, as Adam's game isn't all that different from the Basque's. One would imagine that Downing would be the other of the pronged midfielder. This would put Gerrard in the role that I've kind of been screaming for since 2006 (the last time he did it), where Stevie doesn't play "on" the right but "from" the right. It means he's not scouring the touch line out wide, but coming in from a wide position, where central defenders and midfielders would have a nightmare picking him up, where fullbacks would be unsure what to do. You may remember Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg scoring about 293 goals doing this with Arsenal around the 2001-2004 era. You may also remember Gerrard winning Player of the Year from this role in 2006.

But Dalglish won't always use that formation, and when he reverts to a 4-2-3-1, you have to ask if Gerrard still has the legs to be right behind a central striker. If he doesn't, has he gained the discipline to be deeper? Will he revert to the Hollywood pass that afflicted him earlier in his career, the ones that affect Adam now? Can he remain positionally sound? Does anyone have an answer?

All that said, Gerrard must know that this is his last hurrah. He's heading into his last international tournament at the end of the season, though with an outside shot to still play a role in Brazil -- he'll be 34 so it's not out of the question, but it most likely won't be in a prominent role. He also must know that Liverpool have to get back into the primetime right now, or he won't be around to enjoy it when they do. And no one will be more determined to see that happen than Stevie G.

I still think the capacity to hump Liverpool into three points is still there. I still think we'll see him be the best player on the pitch by miles at times. But they won't be as frequent. Both Gerrard and Dalglish will have to pick their spots. But he's never had this much support in midfield, and perhaps for the first time Liverpool can survive when Gerrard can't breathe them back into life.