It’s amazing how Steven Gerrard’s 38 second red card against Manchester United has overshadowed far more important consequences for Liverpool than the loss of their talisman for three games, not to mention the race for Champions’ League places.
Far more pertinent is how Liverpool fared without Gerrard, before and after the dismissal, and the significance for Brendan Rodgers from here on in.
I must admit how impressed I was with Jamie Carragher’s assessment of his mate’s sending-off. Many a pundit would, and did, drop one side of the fence or the other; was it justified or not and left it there. No question Gerrard deserved his early bath but the way ‘Carra’ explained the background did him enormous credit. As did Gerrard fronting up to the post-match camera in the way he did.
With insight that can only come from the hundreds of times they played together, the Sky pundit went deep into detail how, after a decade and a half of being the ‘main man’ at Liverpool, Stevie G had to get used to being be a spectator. In recent times he has been an onlooker from the bench as the team and Jordan Henderson prospered without him. Then on Sunday he had to watch as Liverpool undid all the good work of recent months with no one in a red shirt putting in a tackle or a challenge as Manchester United ran the show, especially in the first half, as if the game were at Old Trafford.
A Gerrard-less midfield was ineffective as Fellaini stood head and shoulders, literally and metaphorically, astride the middle of the park.
Carragher voiced what any footballer who has ever had to watch on as a substitute has done down the years, from Sunday League to World Cup. ‘I can do better than that so why am I not out there instead of those who are not doing it’ or words to that effect. For some subs of course it would have been a biased view, but in Gerrard’s case most accurate. That feeling must have been eating away at Gerrard.
With him watching from the bench, Liverpool lacked movement or invention as they chased the copious possession enjoyed by the visitors. A situation that had co-commentator Gary Neville, another veteran of many a Red v Red encounter, waxing lyrical that he had never seen a visiting United team dominate at Anfield in the way Louis van Gaal’s team did.
As the game moved towards the interval it was a solid bet that Steven Gerrard would be introduced for the second half. Not withstanding his ability, he has years of experience of situations such as the one Liverpool faced against United, that Brendan Rodgers felt the team did not need in the first period. Another error by the Liverpool manager.
One crunching tackle and one error of judgement from a rush of blood to the head by Gerrard and 38 seconds after coming on he was on his way back to the dressing-room.
When it came down to the crunch, Liverpool did not have the leadership from Henderson they have enjoyed in the last couple of months. He has been lauded as Gerrard’s successor but there is a major difference between the two. Gerrard has been Liverpool’s most consistent performer for more than a decade. Henderson has to demonstrate Sunday’s ‘blip’ was just that if he is to regarded as a serious successor to Gerrard.
The best teams do not rely on one skipper. Liverpool, when they dominated in the 1970s and 80s had any number of captains who led by example and performance whatever their team line up was. The Liverpool of today does not.
When Liverpool FC assesses their recruitment targets in the summer, leadership qualities should be as high on the list as any of the other attributes they yearn. Otherwise, when it comes to the big games against teams chasing what Liverpool chase, i.e. Champions League football, they turn such fixtures into six-point, pivotal games, as they did against Manchester United.