This weekend saw something of a return to type for Liverpool captain and midfield maestro Steven Gerrard, the absence of Argentinian captain Javier Mascherano, who stayed behind in Argentina for tests on an as yet undiagnosed complaint following their two World Cup qualification games last week, saw Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez given a minor selection headache in central midfield. For the visit of Burnley to Anfield, Benitez opted to bring Gerrard back from his attacking role into a more traditional central midfield role, alongside the Brazilian youngster Lucas, a decision which saw Yossi Benayoun, a notable omission from Liverpool’s last game (a 3-2 away success at Bolton) return to the side in a more advanced attacking role.
The Israeli international rightly took many plaudits for his subsequent performance, netting his third hat-trick in a Liverpool shirt (following those against Besiktas and Havant and Waterlooville) having a fourth wrongly disallowed for offside and generally running a spirited but ultimately limited Burnley side ragged all afternoon. However playing in his traditional role, Gerrard also impressed many fans and critics alike, causing Burnley manager Owen Coyle to mischieviously lament in his post game interview;
“Steven Gerrard could play at right back and still be effective because he is a world class player. You see it on the international stage and club stage every week. He’s a real Liverpool player, I would say though, I would prefer it if he did play at right-back!”
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez paid tribute to Benayoun’s endeavours but once again, ignored the performance of his captain, instead highlighting the performance of Lucas stating;
“Lucas supported and managed the middle and kept everyone else going forward…For me he was the key player today. We can talk about Yossi but it was thanks to Lucas. One thing everyone told me when I came here was that if you work hard the fans are with you They could see again today that Lucas is a worker who has quality. He can challenge in the air, tackle and pass the ball.
“He worked so hard in different positions and allowed the other players more freedom. For me he was a very important player for us today.”
Indeed it was only a few weeks ago that Benitez was urging for more from his captain, accusing him of being in poor form at the start of the season, which given Gerrard’s importance to the club ever since he made his debut, seems a tad unjust. Yet it seems that some players, notably those who Benitez has invested a significant amount of money in, seem almost immune to any form of criticism from their manager. Gerrard however seems to seldom attract a similar amount of praise from his manager, a fact which the Liverpool captain has publicly noted in his autobiography when he stated;
“My aim is still to get a ‘well done’ off him before I retire, but then if he gives me a ‘well done’”, I may need treatment and a long lie down.”
One could argue Benitez’s management style of “tough love” for some and yet seeming unconditional support for another is a clever psychological ploy aimed at bringing harmony to the squad. Few Liverpool fans would be bereft if Lucas was to leave the club, I can’t think of one who would delight in Gerrard leaving and yet it seems Gerrard gets tough love from the manager and in contrast Lucas gets unconditional support.
One wonders if Benitez true feelings for his captain will ever be known. The Spaniard is not slow to be wax elegies to many other of his squads talented players and it seems utterly incongruous that perhaps the finest individual talent Liverpool football club has ever produced, and that is not a comment made lightly, still yearns for that same level of acceptance from his manager.
The only positive is that Benitez’s approach with Gerrard seems to work and that is only to the benefit of Liverpool, the player and the manager and indeed many would argue, that is its sole justification.
Click here to comment on this articleor
Give us feedback on your Football Transfer Tavern experience