Why Liverpool should resist sentiment and bench Gerrard in semis
With the hourglass running low on granules where Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool career is concerned, the pressure to give the legendary skipper game time will only increase, but caution must be exercised.
Liverpool face arguably their most important match of the season next, when they meet Aston Villa under the arch for a place in the FA Cup final.
Whether or not Brendan Rodgers affords his talisman the start he craves is one of the bigger questions.
The Northern Irishman may have demonstrated imperviousness to the clamour over his skipper this season, but in such a scenario as a cup semi-final, his resolve is sure to be stretched taut.
Liverpool’s strong 8/13 favouritism to get the job done in 90 minutes implies the decision is not all that pivotal, but these odds paint a false picture.
Villa are on the up under Tim Sherwood. They arrive at Wembley freed by the subsiding threat of relegation thanks to their latest three-point haul at Tottenham and, unlike Liverpool, the Villans harbour a striker in the finest of fettle.
Christian Benteke has scored nine goals in his last eight appearances for club and country and although he was absent through injury at the time, his teammates left Anfield as worthy winners earlier in the season.
Gerrard was part of a three-man midfield that day and in truth he was overrun by the boundless energy of direct opponents Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverley.
Villa are sure to rely on the dynamism created in the middle of the park again and as such Rodgers must match this, leaving Lucas, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson as his best options.
This trio started the last two games in which Liverpool prevailed against Blackburn and Newcastle respectively.
In his third game back from injury, a tireless Lucas once again proved he’s the best screener of the defence on the Anfield books, while Allen was busy as usual, scoring, and Henderson set up the opener with a Gerrard-esque ball for Raheem Sterling.
Rodgers’ decision is sure to be made slightly simpler by Gerrard’s potential ring-rustiness after sitting out three matches, owing to his reckless red card against Manchester United.
In that respect, the Liverpool stalwart may have to accept part of his punishment is to be started from the bench at Wembley, which seems to make most sense all around.
It’s not to say he can’t have an impact from the bench, but hopefully not the sort he had against United from a Reds perspective.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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