Gerrard's no retiring geriatric
Grabbing newspaper headlines this week was the remarkable Steven Gerrard, who moved up Liverpool’s all-time goal-scorer charts but then refused to discuss his long-term future at the club.
In one of the more remarkable themes to have developed this season, Gerrard kept up his incredible appearance record in the win at Villa Park. The 32-year-old skipper once again played every minute of the match in a game which saw him score from the penalty spot to take his tally to 159 (and move into seventh on the list ahead of Michael Owen). It means Gerrard has now played every minute of every league game this season. Only Everton’s Leighton Baines and Villa’s Matt Lowton have done the same.
Remember, this is a player who only played in 18 league games last season and 21 the campaign before that. While a lot of credit must go to Liverpool’s head of performance, Glenn Driscoll, and fitness coach Ryland Morgans, manager Brendan Rodgers said Gerrard’s 31-game run was in the main down to the player himself.
After Sunday’s win, Rodgers revealed his captain had an injection in his heel to allow him to play.
“He was in a bit of pain and struggling to get a boot on,” said Rodgers. “It was nothing major but many other players might not have played.”
Rodgers went on to liken Gerrard to Ryan Giggs in terms of his habit of taking good care of his body, thus extending his playing career.
“He can play on into his late 30s,’’ said the manager. “He’s a remarkable man. Look at his fitness level and his running ability. He has been like that the majority of the season.
“He is a remarkable professional. He’s in early. He gets changed, lets the medics assess him to make sure he’s alright and has the right foods at the right time to be ready to train at 10.30. He goes out, gets his final preparation for training, does his core work and stretching and then goes out.
“I have never seen him give less than 150 per cent in training every single day. He never has a lazy day.”
While some may be concerned at Rodgers’ fondness for bandying about terms like “150 per cent” and even “200 per cent”, the manager’s only worry right now is the skipper’s apparent reluctance to contemplate discussing a new contract until the end of this season. Gerrard has 15 months left on his current two-year contract and Liverpool will not want to allow that contract to tick down as far as it did last time – Stevie G was just five months from becoming a free agent when he put pen to paper.
After Sunday’s game, Gerrard said, “For me, it (contract talk) is not a priority at the moment. The most important thing for me now is to move on to the West Ham game. I want to finish the season strong. I am feeling good.
“Of course I am happy that the club are mentioning new contracts, but it’s not important at the moment. What we need to do is put pressure on for that European place. A lot of the teams above us need to play each other.”
There is no suggestion that Gerrard is in any way saying his contract discussions will hinge on guaranteed European football next season (in fact he even went on to say that “with a few improvements in the summer to the squad, we believe we can put in a better challenge to the top four next season”). However, it is worth noting that Liverpool are only in seventh place despite having their inspirational leader in the team for every game this season. At this rate, those improvements this summer will have to be spectacular.
Nonetheless, Sunday’s game did offer some encouraging signs. To start with, this time they did not need a strike from Luiz Suarez, who before the kick-off at Villa Park had supplied 38.5 per cent of the Reds’ goals. His main contribution was winning a fifth penalty of the season – the most by any player in the league. Furthermore, they were able to get the job done without Daniel Sturridge in the starting lineup.
Instead, Philippe Coutinho again caught the eye. The 20-year-old Brazilian probably should have scored a third league goal on Sunday when he was through one-on-one with Brad Guzan but he had to be content on the day with producing the superb pass for Jordan Henderson’s leveler. That took his contribution in six Premier League appearances to three assists and two goals.
As for Henderson, well his neatly-taken goal was the third of a campaign in which he has only made nine starts. He has overtaken last season’s goal tally and is playing with a confidence that looked ragged at the start of his Anfield career. Our studio pundit, John Barnes, put Henderson’s obvious belief down to the super work he has been doing with England’s Under-21s. He captained them to six wins in six games last year and in February was named Player of the Year.
To the neutrals, Liverpool’s pursuit of European football (and therefore their neck-and-neck race with Merseyside rivals Everton) will supply some of the entertainment in a Barclays Premier league season run-in that looks unlikely to feature any great drama in the title race.
The grim battle to avoid relegation could yet entertain us, the battle for Champions League places will definitely do so, and how about Gerrard’s personal quest to complete a 38-game season in pursuit of European football for his beloved club? I, for one, will be keeping a close eye on that.