I am one of the believers that Steven Gerrard cost Liverpool the Premier League title last season.
Not because his slip at Anfield effectively gave Chelsea three points, but because he was a player not doing his job properly.
It’s accepted that he scored 13 goals and ended the season with the same number of league assists, but let’s not forget that 10 of his goals were penalties and the majority of his assists were from dead-ball situations.
Picked as the deepest-sitting midfield player, Gerrard’s chief role was not to score or assist goals. Instead, it was to protect his defence, dictate the tempo of matches and recycle possession, allowing the flair players ahead of him to cause problems in the final third.
But, with Gerrard in that role Liverpool conceded 50 goals in total, which was more than Crystal Palace, and let in at least two goals in 12 of their 19 away games, including against each of the three relegated clubs.
These can’t all be blamed on Gerrard, but it is significant that around 85% of the goals Liverpool conceded in the league were within the width of the semi-circle on the edge of the 18-yard box, arguably the area that the former England captain should have been protecting.
One of Liverpool’s big problems, especially towards the end of the season, was a willingness to drop too deep when defending, which allowed the opposition to get more balls into the box and generally have possession in more threatening areas.
Gerrard can’t take responsibility for dragging Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho up the pitch, but he was to blame for allowing the gap between defence and midfield to become too great.
Positional play is not one of the 34-year-old’s biggest strengths. Although improved, he can lack discipline, awareness and ground coverage.
In truth, he is still a box-to-box midfielder in terms of his strengths and style, but he no longer has the energy to play this role.
Gerrard is now at the base of the midfield simply because this is the only place for him. He has adapted manfully, but not brilliantly.
The problem is that against the best teams, his defensive deficiencies will be more greatly exposed and in the Premier League, there is no better player to take advantage than David Silva.
And this is why Gerrard shouldn’t start against Manchester City at the Etihad.
If he does, Man City have to be backed at 11/13 to take maximum points, while exactly two home goals is well-priced at 12/5.
Gerrard missed the defeat at Man City on Boxing Day last season, but did start in the 3-2 April win at Anfield.
Interestingly, not only did Silva score, but he had five shots in the match, which was more than anyone else, including Luis Suarez. Man City also left Anfield with the higher percentage of possession.
Rather than Gerrard, it was Philippe Coutinho that won Liverpool that game, making eight tackles, six clearances and playing more passes than his skipper.
Given this performance, Coutinho must play centrally again when Liverpool visit the Etihad next in the Premier League and dropping Gerrard would allow this to happen.
Against Man City in particular, teams must face the avalanche of players attempting to overload the space in front of the opposing defence.
Silva and Samir Nasri roam around in pockets of space after drifting infield from the wide areas and now Stevan Jovetic can drop off from attack to link play with Edin Dzeko.
Gerrard is not equipped to deal with such guile and players with great awareness of lateral movement and space.
Lucas is more of a anchorman and it is he that should get the nod behind Coutinho centrally, despite not setting pulses running against Southampton playing slightly further forward.
Looking at Liverpool’s opening win, in which they were slightly fortunate to triumph, the most interesting statistic is that Gerrard attempted 10 long balls.
To put this into perspective, only four players across the top flight on the opening day played more and two of those were goalkeepers.
Gerrard played one key pass, made fewer tackles than Raheem Sterling and just one interception.
Southampton had 12 shots in the game and eight were from players that regularly popped up in Gerrard’s zone (James Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Wanyama).
Liverpool will not be so fortunate if Silva, Nasri and Yaya Toure are given the same licence to shoot.
Coutinho started as one of the front three against Southampton and was largely shackled by tight marking. Given his dribbling skills, tenacity and eye for a killer pass or flick, he has to be utilised in a deeper position to have a greater impact on the game.
This doesn’t have to be the end of Gerrard and there has been previous suggestions that he will miss games this season, especially with the additional fixture pile-up created by Liverpool’s participation in the Champions League.
Although only two weeks into the season, this could prove a smart time to give the skipper a rest and maybe utilise him further forward as a second-half substitute if Liverpool are chasing the game and devoid of inspiration.