OpinionJohn Aldridge

Skipper has to fight for spot in Liverpool starting team

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge
Henderson is growing into the role as captain with Gerrard sidelined
Henderson is growing into the role as captain with Gerrard sidelined

Steven Gerrard is about to enter the final chapter of his iconic Liverpool career – but he may be forced to spend some of his remaining weeks at the club on the substitute’s bench.

Gerrard is close to a return to full fitness after a month on the sidelines and while he will want to play as many games as possible before heading off to LA Galaxy, the truth may be that he is not worthy of a place in Rodgers high-flying Liverpool team right now.
Regular readers of my Sunday World column will know I’m Gerrard’s biggest fan and I’ve stated time and again that he is the greatest player to have ever pulled on a Liverpool shirt, but sentiment needs to be taken out of the equation when Rodgers picks his team over the coming few matches.
There will be plenty of occasions when Stevie can contribute to the team over these next two months as he clearly still has so much to offer, yet the performance of the team in his absence suggests Rodgers should not change a winning formula at this moment.
The players producing consistently superb performances for Liverpool deserve their spots in the team and I’m sure Gerrard will agree that the likes of Jordon Henderson and Joe Allen should not be dropped to make way for him.
Even though they were disappointed not to beat Blackburn yesterday, this is some turnaround for Liverpool. Some suggested Rodgers was on borrowed time at Anfield not long ago and while I always said he deserved to be given time to rebuild after Luis Suarez’s departure, Brendan has admitted that he was in a considerable about of trouble in November and December. 
It looked like he had run out of ideas as his team floundered in the Champions League and lost ground on their rivals at home, but the last three months have done even more for Rodgers’s reputation than last season’s runners-up spot.
The lesson to be learned from this story is we should all be careful not to get wrapped up in the instant judgements that are a hallmark of this era of the game, with users of Facebook and Twitter often fuelling the panic the runs through a club in double quick time these days.
Back in my day as a player and then a manager, I read the newspaper and saw a bit of tension building up around a team, but it was nothing like it is now. Lose two games in the current climate and fans want the manager out, but the Rodgers revival at Liverpool is proof that knee-jerk reactions are not always wise.
This is a manager who has been bold and brave in his decisions and they are paying off handsomely, with confidence returning to the Liverpool team and the results flowing at a rate that leads most observers to believe a top four finish is very much within reach for the Reds.
How has Rodgers done it? Well, he ripped up his team and started again and the big success story has been at the back, where his move to play with a back-three has worked, much to my surprise as I am not a fan of the system. 
Brendan suggested in the Sunday World last weekend that he stumbled across the idea of going to a three-man central defence, but it has clicked very quickly and Liverpool suddenly look like a solid defensive unit.
Emre Can has emerged as a real star in the making in a variety of positions over the last few weeks and Allen – who was very much a fringe player until recently – has been fantastic in the last couple of games and deserves to stay in the team ahead of Gerrard.
Henderson is growing into the role of Liverpool captain impressively and the exciting facet of what could unexpectedly turn out to be an incredibly successful season for Rodgers is the squad he now has around him, which is so much better than it was a year ago.
Glen Johnson, Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique, Javi Manquillo, Gerrard, Lucas, Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini have all been either left out of the team or injured in recent weeks and they have not been missed.
It is a squad that now looks ready to withstand an injury crisis, which was not the case last season as Suarez, Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge carried the challenge on their broad shoulders.
Liverpool were daring to believe they could win their first Premier League title this time last year and that dream was based on a few key players, but the load is being shared now and this bodes well for the future.
The last few weeks have offered up a positive glimpse of what life will be like when Gerrard joins the ranks of the former Liverpool players, with the fear that was once attached to such a prospect now all but gone.
Gerrard will be missed when he hands over his Liverpool No.8 shirt, of course he will, but a new team is emerging in time to ensure a like-for-like replacement does not need to be found and Rodgers can take much of the credit for that.