Steven Gerrard sets the tone for Liverpool FC, so it seems fitting that he has taken up residence at the base of the Reds’ midfield — the most important area of the field.
Gerrard is entering a new phase of his career at age 34. The longtime Liverpool captain transitioned from an all-action midfielder to a holding midfield role last season to great effect and led the Reds to within two points of their first domestic title since 1990. Gerrard was a finalist for both of English soccer’s major Player of the Year awards.
Gerrard retired from international soccer in July — a few weeks after he captained England at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Liverpool expects to reap the benefits of Gerrard’s decision to end his England career. Liverpool is playing in four competitions this season, and Gerrard will have more energy to fan the eternal flame that burns inside his heart now that he no longer has England commitments to fulfill.
However, Gerrard won’t man the middle by himself. Liverpool usually will play with three midfielders, but manager Brendan Rodgers lines up the Reds’ midfield in a diamond formation in certain situations. The constant is the defensive midfielder, who sits in front of the back four, and the two box-to-box midfielders who play slightly ahead of the holding player. They are critical to winning back the ball and making quick transitions to attack — the Liverpool way.
Let’s look at the other midfielders in Liverpool’s first team:
Lucas Leiva, 27, mastered the role a few years ago, but injuries have thrown his Liverpool career off track, and he no longer is an automatic starter. But Lucas has an important role to play, and he should be included in most game-day squads. That is, unless Lucas’ form dips, he suffers an injury or another player overtakes him in Rodgers’ pecking order.
Emre Can, 20, is such a player. Can, a £10 million ($16.7 million) summer signing from German club Bayer Leverkusen, plays a number of positions, but his preferred spot is a deep one in central midfield. If Can lives up to his billing as “one of the biggest talents in German football,” he could displace a number of players in a number of positions.
These players are expected to do much of the running in Rodgers’ system, and energy and quality are at a premium. Jordan Henderson, 24, fits the mold perfectly. Henderson’s boundless energy and continued improvement compelled Rodgers to play him every minute in every game in all but five of Liverpool’s Premier League contests last season (he was suspended for two of them). Henderson’s spot is secure, and he will feature heavily in 2014-15.
Can and Joe Allen, 24, will vie for the other central midfield position. Allen currently might be ahead of Can because of his familiarity with Rodgers’ system and experience in England’s top flight. That could change once Can adapts to his new club’s style of play.
Phillippe Coutinho, 22, and Raheem Sterling, 19, headline this group. Liverpool probably won’t play with a midfield diamond too often, so Coutinho and Sterling might be the only ones to see action in a central attacking midfield role.
Coutinho will be expected to unlock defenses with his vision and passing ability. The Brazilian also can play one of the central (box-to-box) midfield roles, but he is more valuable further forward.
Sterling showed a versatility that belies his age when he excelled in this role in the final weeks of last season’s campaign. After exiting the 2014 World Cup with his credibility intact and starring in a number of Liverpool’s preseason games, Sterling is carrying great expectations. The budding star looks like he’s ready to meet them and bear more responsibility in 2014-15.
New signings Adam Lallana, 26, and Lazar Markovic, 20, also can play in this role, but they are more likely to feature as forwards or wingers, so we’ll take a closer look at them when we assess Liverpool’s attacking options.
Editor’s note: This is the third of our position-by-position breakdowns on Liverpool’s 2014-15 squad.
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