‘Gerrarddependencia’: Liverpool’s transfer misses have made captain indispensable

As Liverpool's additions fail to make the side stronger, more pressure is heaped on Steven Gerrard, writes Richard Jolly.
Steven Gerrard has played in all 15 of Liverpool's Premier League games this season, scoring three times. Paul Ellis / AFP
Steven Gerrard has played in all 15 of Liverpool's Premier League games this season, scoring three times. Paul Ellis / AFP

Work began to expand Anfield on Monday. By the time it is finished the main stand will be able to accommodate another 8,500 people.

More importantly, it is expected to produce another £20 million (Dh114m) per season in matchday revenue.

All of which would seem more auspicious had Liverpool not spent £20m this summer on Lazar Markovic, a winger who is yet to contribute to a goal in his Anfield career and who made his first Premier League appearance since September in a forgettable 12-minute cameo against Sunderland on Saturday.

They spent a further £20m on Dejan Lovren, the most expensive centre-back in the club’s history but a player who has already lost his place in the team. When the building work is complete and the interest-free loan to owners Fenway Sports Group repaid, Liverpool will be able to afford another Lovren or another Markovic every year. It is a prospect to depress, rather than one to foster optimism.

This is Anfield, a place where bad buys have outnumbered good over the past dozen years. The notion the answer lies in the transfer market has been disproved time and again. Since finishing last season as runners-up, Liverpool have spent £117m and regressed at such alarming speed that they are starting to resemble David Moyes’ Manchester United, a side shorn of urgency, identity and ideas.

They approach a pivotal nine days in their season in mediocre form, despite claims a corner was turned in a four-game unbeaten run against Ludogorets, Stoke City, Leicester City and Sunderland. By the end of next week, Liverpool could have been knocked out of the Champions League and the League Cup by FC Basel and Bournemouth, respectively, and suffered defeat to their fiercest rivals, Manchester United.

They enter season-defining fixtures with only one of their nine summer additions seemingly certain to start: Rickie Lambert, the cheapest of all and a striker who has never scored at Anfield. It is little wonder it can seem the best things in Liverpool life are free.

Yet some seemed to forget the enduring value of Steven Gerrard. Those calling for the captain to be dropped seemed to include a disproportionate number of United fans, some driven by a long quest to discredit Gerrard. Now the overworked veteran has belatedly been rested, a glimpse of Liverpool without their captain has shown how preposterous suggestions they were better without him actually are.

The bare facts are that they have played 208 minutes in the senior two competitions without him. While Liverpool are not prolific with Gerrard in the team, they have not scored at all in his absence. They could be forgiven for failing to find the net against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu before he was brought on. Yet successive home games against Stoke and Sunderland have been notable for their uneventfulness without a man with a priceless capacity to make things happen.

In both matches, Liverpool’s first shot on target came after the hour mark. On both occasions, they missed Gerrard: his drive and dynamism, his set-piece expertise, his willingness to look for the defence-splitting ball. Brendan Rodgers wants passing football and has got passive players. Gerrard apart, only Raheem Sterling looks a difference maker.

And amid the talk about rationing Gerrard’s appearances, a supposed sticking point in talks about a new contract, the question was phrased wrongly. It is not a matter of how many games he is granted, but of how often Liverpool can afford to omit him. The answer, it seems, is that they cannot.

It was damning just how few chances the Gerrard-less side fashioned in the past two games at Anfield.

Once again, Liverpool find themselves looking to him for inspiration. An hour or so after the Sunderland stalemate finished, Kolo Toure talked about how Gerrard “makes the magic when no one can make it”. It has often been true, the reliance on individual wizardry exacerbated by collective failings.

Monday marked the 10th anniversary of one of Gerrard’s acts of escapology, the 86th-minute special against Olympiakos to clinch qualification from the Champions League group stages. The Basel game provides Liverpool with a similar scenario; progress again hangs in the balance while a new-look team struggles in England.

Of course, Gerrard is not the same player now. But the problem is that no one else resembles the 24-year-old Gerrard or replicates his impact.

One of the themes of the World Cup was “Messidependencia”, Argentina’s dependence on Lionel Messi. Liverpool have suffered from Gerrarddependencia for large swathes of the past 15 years. After spending £117m, it should have been eased. Instead, it has only increased.

sports@thenational.ae

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Published: December 8, 2014 04:00 AM

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