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Gerrard is the key to Liverpool’s quest for the top four

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s soon as he was he was injured, the questions began to arise: “when will he be healthy again? When Jordan Henderson excelled as the new captain during Gerrard’s injury spell, and Liverpool continued fantastic form without the 34-year-old, the questions seemed to grow more serious: “Will he even be the captain when he’s back? Will he even play?”

Those questions were undoubtedly answered yesterday, when Gerrard stepped onto the pitch at Liberty Stadium against Swansea. Substituted on in the 64th minute, as soon as he ran past Alberto Moreno coming off, Jordan Henderson handed Gerrard the captain’s band. From that point on, what had began as an abysmal performance from the Reds turned into a signature win heading into an important match against Manchester United on Sunday. More importantly, the return of Steven Gerrard provides a key piece to the puzzle that is a top four finish.

Gerrard’s appearance could not have been more timely, as a sloppy first half, especially from Liverpool’s midfield, looked to spell doom for the team on the precipice of 4th place and a shot at the Champions League. In the first half, everything was developing slowly, or not developing at all. Daniel Sturridge was not making any runs, and Philippe Coutinho was not himself, which left the Swansea side unthreatened, and it gave them an opportunity to attack.

Luckily for Liverpool, some great saves by Simon Mignolet and decent defensive efforts at times of need kept the ball out of their own goal, and it preserved a chance at three points. But, as the second half unfolded, and, although the attack began to strengthen, the Reds still needed a spark.

That spark was provided by none other than the man who has provided a spark for Liverpool since 1998. Gerrard came on, and, thanks to a bit of a change in strategy from manager Brendan Rodgers, provided some assistance to an attack, which eventually broke through.

Jordan Henderson may have had a bit of fortune on his side when Jordi Amat’s attempted clearance struck the midfielder and looped over Swansea Keeper Łukasz Fabiański’s head, propelling Liverpool to a 1-0 victory. And no, Steven Gerrard was not involved in the attack, but his presence on the field displayed a clear impact on Liverpool’s speedy improvement in the second half, and ultimately led to Henderson’s goal and the neutralization of Swansea’s attack.

What does this mean for Gerrard? The living legend of Anfield was almost an afterthought after Liverpool continued their winning ways without him. But, in a time of need, his aura on the pitch alone can drive the side to a win, as exemplified in the match yesterday. But, despite that sloppy performance, as well as the draw with Blackburn last week, Liverpool has enjoyed great success without the captain. Is he still important to the side?

Henderson celebrates scroring against Swansea

Jordan Henderson

With their recent form, there is no reason to doubt the midfield pair of Henderson and Joe Allen. There is also no reason to take the brilliant Coutinho and the in-form Lallana out of their advanced midfield roles, where Gerrard sometimes finds himself as well. Removing a winger in Moreno and switching up the formation may have worked in South Wales, but there’s no guarantee of success in the future. Perhaps Gerrard’s best spot is on the bench right now.

We don’t know what is going through Brendan Rodgers’ mind, but I don’t think he’s losing sleep over what to do with Gerrard. Knowing he has the capability to start, and being aware of the presence Stevie G brings off the bench, it is clear that Rodgers has a weapon that he can use in many ways. He can take advantage of Gerrard in many ways, and that is why Gerrard is key to this final push toward a berth in the Champions League next season.

Whether he is starting, coming on as a substitute, or even not playing, Steven Gerrard provides the veteran leadership to go along with skill that has not diminished too much, even at an advanced age. Above all, the players that surround him know how important Liverpool is to him, and, even though winning the Premier League is (barring an epic Chelsea collapse) out of the question, they know how important winning is to him.

Gerrard would absolutely want this side to finish in the top four, despite the fact that he would be in Los Angeles by the time the Champions League group stage comes around. That’s just the competitive nature in him. Add to that the fact that hardware is still available, as a chance to hoist the FA Cup at Wembley is just a couple of wins away for the skipper.

At this point in time, there is no telling what role Steven Gerrard will play in the coming months, but one thing is certain. He will be as important to Liverpool as he has ever been, and his return from injury is just what they needed to keep up their form and push toward the top four finish that seemed out of reach in November.

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