Wednesday 23 January 2019

Ronnie Whelan: Give Stevie G some help

Liverpool's legendary skipper Gerrard just not able to play three games in a week now

West Ham United's Stewart Downing (left) and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 20, 2014. See PA story SOCCER West Ham. Pho
West Ham United's Stewart Downing (left) and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday September 20, 2014. See PA story SOCCER West Ham. Pho
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers during the Barclays Premier League match at Upton Park, London. PRESS

STEVIE Gerrard looks like a man with a season in his legs rather than the few short weeks the Premier League has been under way. It's one of the reasons Liverpool are struggling.

He's 34 now and once more, he is being asked to plug gaps which money has failed to fill. On the evidence of the last seven days, he can't do three games in a week any more.

There comes a time in every player's career when the legs simply cannot answer the demands made by the mind or live up to the expectation created by reputation.

Liverpool's great run last season began in the early part of the New Year and a key component was the fact that Gerrard could no longer be the all-action, goalscoring midfielder he used to be and played deep.

His trademark cross-field balls became a feature of Liverpool's season and he was able to run the show with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in front of him.

Suarez is gone and Sturridge is injured so Liverpool began the game against West Ham with Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini as the strike partnership.

I've never really rated Borini for all he did at Sunderland last season and he's certainly not up there in the Diego Costa or Sergio Aguero class. Nor indeed is Balotelli. Not even close.

I watched the top two teams in the title race at the Etihad yesterday and there was an abundance of attacking talent on show and plenty on the bench.

It seems amazing that after spending so much money, Liverpool ended up with Europe's most controversial footballer and a journeyman pro leading the line.

The consequence is that Gerrard is once again trying to do everything and it is clear to me that he doesn't have the legs for it. I'd say he knows that himself.

Gerrard gave everything he had last season and still came up short. He had a right to think, however, during the brief holiday he had following another disappointing World Cup finals for England, that he would be kicking off again in August in a stronger position.

After some big spending, Gerrard must have felt that the huge weight which he has carried around on his shoulders for a decade might be lifted because he would have other match-winners around him happy to take on their share.

Instead, he got Balotelli, a player who hardly lifts one leg in front of the other and will never do enough covering back no matter what shirt he's wearing.

The whole Rodgers/Anfield project is based around everyone buying into the message, everyone putting in the same amount of effort and everyone searching for a common goal.

Balotelli listens to his own advice and plays his own game. He had one sublime moment against West Ham when he nearly scored but did nothing else.

Contrast that with Costa, for example. Against Manchester City, he was everything you want your leading striker to be. He gave Pablo Zabaleta a torrid time and drew the fouls which earned a red card.

He was on the move constantly and when needed, back in the Chelsea penalty area helping out.

He is a huge buy for Jose Mourinho and I believe will be the difference between Chelsea's limp title challenge last time out and a successful one come next April.

Manchester City did well to get a point of the game and it was to their credit that they did given the recent criticism of Manuel Pellegrini's squad suggesting complacency and a mercenary attitude from key players.

Poor Mourinho had a face like thunder when Frank Lampard sneaked in for the equaliser but I'm sure he was more annoyed by the bad defending of German World Cup winner Andre Schurrle.

Poor defending was a big feature of the weekend and particularly Liverpool's defeat at Upton Park and I'm certain Rodgers will be working extra hard with his players to point out their failings in this area.

I don't believe that the title is gone because Liverpool have lost three out of five. That formula was worked out by Alex Ferguson in different times.

There are three or four teams now that can win the title and they will all drop points. Just look at the results for the weekend. I doubt Crystal Palace beating Everton at Goodison Park was a popular bet but they won the game.

The real problem Rodgers has now is confidence and the lack of momentum. He wanted Champions League football and he's got it. He wanted more players and he's got them but he's got to find a way to use his bigger squad properly.

He won't have much time. It's Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup tomorrow night and they've just come off a big win - 4-0 against Brentford.

It wouldn't do to lose that game as well and that means that Rodgers will have to put out a stronger team that he might have liked.

One way or other, he needs to let Gerrard sit this one out and then there is some chance that his legs will be in better shape by the time Everton cross Stanley Park to visit Anfield on Saturday.

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