I admit, I didn’t think it would be possible. The first few games lent credence to that train of thought. He got dragged out of position easily, he lost track of midfield runners, and his passing was wayward. He wasn’t even a Pirlo-lite; he was an attacking midfielder shoved in an unfamiliar deep playmaking role.
Then Everton and Arsenal came.
Those thrashings serve to remind me that not everything in football in set in stone, and often, supporters can’t see what the manager can. Henderson, so very long maligned, is now undroppable. Lucas came good years ago, and yet people still question him (while successive managers continually praise his contributions). Allen, the ‘teacher’s pet’, criticised but so crucial in our win over Swansea when he came on. And the list goes on.
I still think Gerrard is not particularly suited to the deep lying role. He’s not a full-on Pirlo, and while he can make worldly passes like the one from the outside of his foot that sliced through the entire Fulham midfield and defence, he vacates his position in the centre far too often for my liking.
Pirlo also plays in a Juventus set-up built around him, with three Italian defenders behind and two to three midfield runners in front. Gerrard plays in front of a shaky back four, with only two midfield runners, one of whom is tasked with chance creation and often isn’t quick enough to get back. Vidal and Pogba are monstrous specimens of players with power, strength and great defensive and offensive ability. Henderson is our only counterpart to them.
We have accommodated the vast attacking talents at our disposal to great success this season. But, as someone who dabbles in tactics, it’s cringe-worthy whenever I see that big, fat gap in midfield. Our defence drops way too deep for a team that relies on pressing, and Gerrard follows suit. He doesn’t push on despite having the space and the skills to do so, and that vast chasm called the midfield often lies empty when the front five push on.
We have transitioned from a possession-based team to a counter-attacking team, and while results have improved, we are still stuck in transition at times. Counter-attack sometimes requires dropping deep, but we failed to do so due to the sense of adventure we currently possess, and Swansea had a ton of space. Barca-style pressing football like we played against Spurs was a joy to watch, but our current midfield isn’t built for that sort of pressing.
Too much attack also leads to not enough defence, and coupled with our defenders’ propensity for calamitous mistakes, we’ve been shipping goals like mad. I think Top 4 is nailed on, but precedence tells us that top goalscoring teams don’t win the league; most miserly defences do.
Moving forward, I hope we entire transition fully to counter-attack with Gerrard as the pivot, or we use him as an attacking midfielder/right forward, and play like Barca do, with intense pressing and an emphasis on possession. But the template for our future is there in the game at White Hart Lane, and I certainly hope we can eventually build a team capable of doing that week in, week out.
Gerrard has to retire some day. We best be prepared for it.