Pitchside

Steven Gerrard’s reinvention key to Liverpool success

Pitchside

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There are very few other players that deserve a Premier League trophy more than Steven Gerrard.

Having stuck by Liverpool throughout the golden years of his career despite interest from some of the world's best clubs, his team have tried but failed season on season to bring domestic glory back to Anfield.

Gerrard's loyalty never wavered, though - at least not enough to actually leave - and after four successive campaigns finishing outside the top five, they have their best chance in years to win their first Premier League crown.

Sunday's meeting at Anfield is by far the most important game of season for both teams and for Gerrard, should Liverpool go onto to win the Premier League will surely rank alongside his Champions League triumph.

At 33 years old, the Liverpool captain has reinvented himself (or rather, manager Brendan Rodgers has utilised him) as a deeper-lying midfielder. There is less in the way of late darts into the area; less in the way of balls falling to an onrushing Gerrard on the edge of the box to crash back towards goal; there is less movement across the pitch overall.

Instead, Gerrard sits in front of the back four and allows the next generation of fleet-footed Liverpool attackers to conduct proceedings further up the pitch.

Accordingly, Gerrard's shots per game are down on last season (1.7 down from 2.6), as are his key passes per game (2.0 compared to 2.6).

His goals may have increased (13 up from 9) and assists have remained constant (9 both this season and last), but both are a result of his incredible technique from dead balls that seems to just be maturing with age.

He has the most assists from set-pieces (7) in the Premier League this season and has scored by far the most penalties (10). It is this technical ability that has allowed him to develop into a metronome at the base of Liverpool's midfield.

As can be seen from his heat maps from the last two Premier League campaigns, his mobility is decreasing with age, but his impact certainly has not diminished:

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Playing alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield, Gerrard's conversion has meant no need for Lucas Leiva to be deployed in the deepest midfield role to cover for marauding Gerrard runs upfield. The England captain has become a more disciplined player and his and Henderson's defensive input allow for Suarez, Sturridge and co. to concentrate on goal-getting.

Tackles per game are up from last season (2.7 compared to 2.4) and so are clearances (2.3 up from 1.7) and shot blocks (0.4 compared to 0.2). His interceptions have dropped marginally from 1.4 per game to 1.3, but that could be a result of an increasingly stationary position that he takes up with less license to charge out and intercept a pass as the last man in midfield.

Accordingly with the increases in defensive input and a higher goal tally, his overall WhoScored rating has improved, up to 7.70 from 7.52 last season.

Against City this weekend, Gerrard will, as usual, be key for Liverpool. He was playing last time the Reds lost at home to City, but that was way back in 2003 when Milan Baros and Nicolas Anelka were on the scoresheet. After that, Liverpool were victorious the next 5 times the Citizens came to play at Anfield. Since 2009, though, 5 of the sides' 6 meetings have been drawn.

This weekend, a draw wouldn't be enough for Liverpool to keep their title charge in their own hands so a victory is the only way Liverpool can guarantee that they are still in control of their own fate come May 11th.

Just 19 days after the end of the season, Gerrard celebrates his 34th birthday, and not long afterwards will lead England to a World Cup in Brazil. He certainly still has a few seasons in him yet, but he won't get a better chance to win the Premier League trophy he so craves, and his career so deserves.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

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