Why Liverpool would be better off without Steven Gerrard against Sunderland
Steven Gerrard vs Sunderland's defence
A misty-eyed fervour has surrounded any mention of Steven Gerrard this week, after the Liverpool legend announced his decision to leave the club, before scoring twice against AFC Wimbledon.
Unfortunately, and in spite of suggestions that the Reds should have tried harder to keep their captain, his departure could be a blessing in disguise for a manager whose stubborn refusal to leave him out has contributed to costing them dearly this campaign.
Without Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge peeling wide from a 4-4-2 diamond (stretching opposition defences for Raheem Sterling to power through), Liverpool have been desperately short of pace and creativity this season. Looking somewhat static and out of shape, they urgently need to inject movement and positional intelligence into the side.
In the 4-1 thrashing of Swansea, Jordan Henderson was moved into Gerrard's position, bringing with him high-tempo passing and greater mobility, while freeing up space for both Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho on the wings. For the 2-2 draw with Leicester, Gerrard was restored to the starting line-up as Liverpool returned to the stale, stagnant, uncreative football that has characterised them this season.
From the same position, Henderson made 4 key passes and 6 crosses against Swansea, while Gerrard made 2 key passes and 0 crosses against Leicester.
Henderson's more attacking impetus is of paramount importance against a Sunderland side who, with five clean sheets in their last nine games, are extremely difficult to break down.
Playing in deep-lying rows and packed together in and around the penalty box, Gus Poyet's side are masters at keeping out shots – once they have had time to move into formation. Their 0-0 draw at Anfield is a reminder of what could be in store for Liverpool.
Liverpool were mostly restricted to long shots in their last meeting, with Sunderland's defensive model easily implemented against a side slow in their build-up play.
Brendan Rodgers will need to ensure his side attack quickly, and field players whose agility and positional play are capable of pulling Sunderland's rigidly entrenched defenders out of position.
As unpopular a decision as it may be, leaving Gerrard out of the side could be the answer to the Reds' creative problems.