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The Evolution of Steven Gerrard

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Captain, legend, and Kopite through and through, Steven Gerrard is closer than ever this season to achieving his greatest goal. The Premier League title has eluded Gerrard and also Liverpool as a club. His commitment and passion for the cause during his entire Liverpool career has been unquestionable and in some ways, that alone is enough to deserve a winner’s medal. It has slipped through his fingers however, year on year. This season though, it seems as if he will finally achieve his ambition. The demonstrable passion has never waned, but it is his performances on the pitch and physical effect on the team that has been just as vital in helping attain his objectives.

As he progressed further into his 30s, I believe Gerrard must have realised that his time as a supremely effective box-to-box midfielder must be entering its twilight. Between Brendan Rodgers and himself, a plan was devised to capitalise on the captain’s attributes that are independent of age. He has certainly not yet lost his pace and athleticism entirely, still tracking back with incomparable vigour and completing vital interceptions, but dropping deeper has allowed him to apply his energy in a more precise zone. As fans, we first began to see the duo’s plan in operation towards the end of last season but its full effects have not been felt until this year’s title chase.

Steven Gerrard’s time as a holding midfielder did not start fantastically well at all. Long-standing attacking drive still all too obvious, he would commonly be caught out of position, fly into too many rash challenges, and give the ball away a little too frequently. In what is widely referred to on the continent as a ‘regista’, Gerrard’s new position required him to dictate play from a much deeper position than one he was used to. Being far more familiar with runs beyond a striker and providing direct assists, he had to realise that the killer ball was now not always required from him. Rodger’s acquisition of the tricky Brazilian Philippe Coutinho to play in this advanced role meant that the Kop favourite could immediately look for him and deliver inch perfect passes.

It was clear to most that Gerrard had the capability to play anywhere on the pitch to an exceptionally high level, though it was accepted that he was best deployed behind the main striker at the time. We need look no further than the triumph in Istanbul. Despite his contribution across the entire pitch in the second half; including scoring the crucial first in the comeback, he was playing nominally as a right back since the interval. Did anyone pass him in this unfamiliar position? Not a chance.

No, Steven Gerrard certainly possessed all the traits necessary to fulfil a more withdrawn role. With a clear directive, he would have no difficulty in producing the quick feet and 10 yard passes required to keep possession in a congested midfield. By dropping back between his centre halves, Gerrard has the additional time and space that allows pin-point ‘Hollywood’ passes to be a regular occurrence. He is without a superior in this regard, and the rapid switching of play has proved to be the downfall of many a defence this season.

Meanwhile, Rodgers has helped him to realise the greater requirement for self-discipline when playing further back on the pitch. As mentioned previously, his combative approach and desire to win the ball back quickly had led to a quickly accumulating quantity of bookings. This was such that, in the four matches prior to and including Manchester City last Sunday, Gerrard had the threat of a 2 match suspension looming over him. Being only 1 booking away from accumulating 10 across the season meant that any indiscretion would leave him absent from Liverpool’s team for a vital couple of games. However, he passed this particular test with flying colours, not only avoiding a caution, but it did not seem to have a derogatory effect on his performances which were as commanding and assured as ever from in front of the back four. These last few matches have been as important as any in teaching him that he can stay on his feet when the ball is not there to win and only sticking a leg out when securing possession is the likely outcome.

On Friday, Brendan Rodgers expressed his admiration for Steven Gerrard’s performances this year, and not for the first time. The Northern Irishman has been reluctant to single out any individual for praise or criticism at any point during the season, but even he had to make an exception here. Week on week, he has been admirable on the pitch and his role as a club ambassador has been phenomenal. He declared that Gerrard’s latter trait has covered his impact on the team on a weekend. “I think his form sometimes gets lost a wee bit with Steven because his leadership quality in the team is there for all to see,” the Liverpool manager said. “We mustn’t forget that he’s arguably the best in European football in a controlling role at this moment in time.”

How right he is. The balance between a vocal influence and tremendous footballing ability has raised his global stock as a holding midfielder. While certain individuals may possess particular traits that match Gerrard’s; Pirlo’s passing or Yaya Touré’s strength for example, there is no one who can boast such a refined combination of them all.

There are several factors to the Liverpool captain’s domestic performances this year that are greatly encouraging for England in the summer. With Gerrard at the pinnacle of a core of various Englishmen playing their football at Anfield, it gives Roy Hodgson plenty of options to choose from in Brazil in terms of tactics and personnel. The magnitude of the influence he can still impose on the game from a withdrawn role has freed up a generic midfield slot for the precocious talents of Wilshere, Barkley or Lallana.

The game intelligence and discipline that Gerrard has been forced to display will perhaps prove to be even more important in World Cup football than matches on these shores. The threat of suspension is a much more constant fear for all players. Only 2 bookings will cause a player to miss the next match. For The Three Lions to be without their inspirational captain would be horrendous news. However, he has shown to any remaining doubters that even in a position that most associate with players who like to ‘put their foot in’, he is able to perform to his maximum without running this risk. The levels of self-control and footballing intelligence cannot be applauded enough.

The way that the Anfield favourite continues to adapt his game to optimise his contribution is admirable and I hope it convinces everybody that football will be the loser when he finally does retire. His absence at both club and international level will be felt strongly, and maybe only then will some recognise the true depth to his achievements.

I am currently at university studying Mechanical Engineering, but in my spare time I'm into all things football. I'm an avid Liverpool fan but always try to remain impartial. My other interests include gaming and Formula One.

Arsenal

Three Arsenal youngsters who could help England bring football home in 2022

The Gunners’ academy continues to develop some of the very best youngsters.

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Arsenal
Photo: Getty Images

After a successful tournament got the nation dreaming, England fell at the penultimate at the World Cup and may require Arsenal‘s help in 2022.

Gareth Southgate’s youthful squad exceeded pre-tournament expectations and suddenly Greg Dyke’s objectives for the 2022 World Cup seem within grasp – and the Three Lions now have four years to build towards glory in Qatar.

Come November 2022, when FIFA has confirmed the World Cup will commence, Southgate is likely to call upon a number of the players who starred for the Three Lions in Russia but changes to his squad are also inevitable.

“The two targets I have for the England team are – one, to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and two, win the World Cup in 2022.”

– FA Chairman Greg Dyke reveals his ambitious plan in 2013.

Fortunately, English football is breaming with exciting young talent at the moment and Arsenal may hold the key to success with three of their most highly-rated prospects.

Eddie Nketiah

Bursting onto the scene in November 2017, Eddie Nketiah became an instant hit at the Emirates Stadium after netting twice against Norwich City in the Carabao Cup. Since then, the 19-year-old forward has gone on to make three Premier League appearances.

Competition for places at Arsenal is fierce, particularly following the captures of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the past 12 months, which means he may have to be patient to get his chance – but the situation is entirely different on the international stage.

In four England U21 appearances, Nketiah has scored two goals, per TransferMarkt stats, following on from eight goals in eight games at U18 level and four goals in two games for the U17 side. In just over a year, Nketiah rose to Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 ranks from the U17’s and shows no signs of stopping his rise.

(Photo by Bertrand Langlois/Getty Images)

Ainsley Maitland-Niles

Becoming a regular for Arsenal in Arsene Wenger’s final season at the Emirates Stadium, Ainsley Maitland-Niles showed his versatility by catching the eye playing as a full-back. His natural position is in midfield though and this is where he could be of value to England.

It is fair to say that England’s options in the middle of the park sitting in front of the defence are extremely limited, with neither Jordan Henderson or Eric Dier doing enough to cement their spot in the position for the long-term.

Maitland-Niles could become the man England are looking for in the coming years and further first-team experience with Arsenal looks set to follow under Unai Emery, as the 20-year-old penned a new long-term deal with the Gunners last month.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Reiss Nelson

Arsenal fans have been excited about 18-year-old Reiss Nelson for a while now and saw the teenager break into the fringes of the first-team last term, as Whoscored data shows he finished the campaign with 15 appearances across all competitions.

Eight of those opportunities came as a starter, including two in the Premier League, and there is every chance Nelson could earn further action under the guidance of Unai Emery next term – especially as Alex Iwobi has not done enough to warrant continued action.

Should the Nigeria international continue to suffer with poor form, the eight-cap England U19 international could be Arsenal’s breakthrough star of the year – following in the footsteps of players like Maitland-Niles, Jack Wilshere and Hector Bellerin.

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England

Who will bring football home? England’s predicted World Cup 2022 squad

Players from Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester United and even Bristol City feature.

Mathew Nash

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England were desperately close to making it into the World Cup final, after defeat to Croatia in the semi-finals.

The Three Lions did however bring back some pride and promise from the long-suffering England fans.

With England also the World Under-17 and Under-20 Champions, the future is brighter than ever.

So who will be at the World Cup in 2022?

It seems impossible to guess four years in advance. Not many would have suggested the likes of Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire or Jesse Lingard four years ago.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

The squad, hopefully, will not change much and the experienced players in the squad will likely still be around.

However, for the sake of the article and debate, anyone who will be over 30 in 2022 has been ignored. That leaves Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Kieran Trippier, Gary Cahill, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Jordan Henderson, Fabian Delph, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck in the cold, even if some of them will likely be present.

Eric Dier also got nudged out, as his form recently has been a concern and Nick Pope has been replaced.

So who makes the XI and the overall squad of 23?

GOALKEEPERS

Jordan Pickford

The Everton stopper cemented his place as England’s new number one during the quarter-final triumph over Sweden. Highly-rated by club and country and with excellent distribution it will be no surprise if he remains England’s first-choice in 2022.

(Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Jack Butland

What a deputy. The Stoke City goalkeeper could easily be our number one. The Potters relegation will hopefully not set him back and he should push Pickford for years to come.

Angus Gunn

The son of a Scotland international has so far rejected their international calls. Recently joined Southampton for £13.5 million and will hope to cement his place as a Premier League regular.

Honourable mentions: Nick Pope, Freddie Woodman, Dean Henderson.

DEFENDERS

John Stones

Despite one lapse of concentration which cost England crucially against Croatia the Manchester City man was excellent in Russia.

If he maintains a starting place at City and his career is not derailed, then Stones will be one of the leaders in Qatar.

Harry Maguire

Became a national hero this summer. A swashbuckling defender with an eye for a goal and a great meme. Should be a multi-cap England international.

Joe Gomez

Replacing Kyle Walker as the pace-man in a back three is Liverpool’s Gomez. If he can combat his recent injury troubles he will be a certain future England player. Remember how he shackled Neymar back in November.

Jamaal Lascelles

For many people, the Newcastle captain should have been in Russia ahead of Phil Jones or Gary Cahill.

Rightly so. A brilliant leader who would slot into a back three perfectly and deserves to be in the England fold for the next four years.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Arsenal at St. James Park on April 15, 2018 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

Dael Fry

The Middlesbrough defender is one inclusion that may cause derision. But this lad is extremely talented.

A reliable defender, good with the ball at his feet and a favourite at St George’s Park. Fry will hope to emerge as an England hopeful in the years to come.

Honourable mentions: Eric Dier, Alfie Mawson, Michael Keane, Ben Wilmot.

FULL-BACKS/WING-BACKS

Trent Alexander-Arnold

Already in the England picture and shone v Belgium. Will likely play in the ¾ play-off this weekend. In four years he might be playing in the final.

Jonjoe Kenny

A tough call this but the Everton defender is like the Kieran Trippier to Alexander-Arnold’s Walker-like characteristics.

Whilst the Liverpool man has the pace and the power Kenny is more deliberate and his crossing is fantastic.

A favourite with the England youth management and the eventual successor to Seamus Coleman at Goodison Park.

Honourable mentions: Kyle Walker-Peters, Dujon Sterling, Steven Sessegnon.

Ryan Sessegnon

A shoe-in for 2022 if he remains fit and healthy. The Fulham star is perhaps England’s most exciting prospect.

He might even be considered an attacker by 2022 but for now, he would be an excellent left wing-back and will hopefully make his England bow this season.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Joe Bryan

This might be the biggest swing and potential miss in the squad. The Bristol City star is wanted by a host of clubs this summer after his fantastic form at Ashton Gate.

But he is a hard-working and super-fit young man who, given the right opportunities, is easily capable of playing for his nation.

Honourable mentions: Lewis Gibson, Luke Shaw, Ben Chilwell

MIDFIELDERS

Lewis Cook

Absolutely adored by the England camp the Bournemouth man has already made his England debut. More positive in his passing than Jordan Henderson and more dynamic than Eric Dier, he is surely the future of England’s composed holding role.

Harry Winks

Set for a big break at Tottenham this season he has the potential to be an England star. If he can overcome his current injury trouble he would seem like being a shoe-in for 2022.

Phil Foden

England lacked a midfielder who could pick the locks of the Croatia defence in the semi-finals. This is the young man to do just that. The Manchester City youngster needs to break into the first-team fold but given what he has already achieved that should not be a problem.

(Photo credit should read DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

A lot depends on his next move, as Chelsea does not seem to be the right place for RLC to develop.

Showed in all his England performances that he is a talent to keep an eye on for the future and England will surely nurture him.

Dele Alli

May not have set the world alight in Russia, but the Tottenham star’s talent cannot be overlooked.

If he can get to the level he is capable of, then Alli is a 100-cap man with ease.

Jesse Lingard

Can he continue to prove people wrong for another four years?

Excellent at the World Cup and been in fine form for Manchester United. If he continues to progress in this way, then he should still be in the England set-up four years from now.

James Maddison

A tough choice considering the wealth of attacking midfield talent but the Leicester newbie seems the most likely to reach the levels necessary to play at a World Cup.

The £24 million talent can play a number of positions and is a special talent the Premier League will enjoy watching next term.

Honourable mentions: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ross Barkley, Jack Grealish, Kieran Dowell,

FORWARDS

Raheem Sterling

He divided opinion among some at this summer’s World Cup. But under the guidance of Pep Guardiola he will continue to improve.

Whether out wide or through the middle, England will surely stick by the attacker.

(Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Harry Kane

The nation’s current captain and front-runner for the Golden Boot award at this summer’s tournament it is hard to see how he won’t lead the line again in four years time.

If he keeps going at his current rate, Kane will surely take Wayne Rooney’s goal-scoring record for England.

Ademola Lookman

Some felt the Everton attacker was unlucky not to go this summer. After thriving on loan at RB Leipzig it seemed he might make a late lunge.

This summer is big for Lookman. He needs to decide where is best to carry on his career which could be key to a future England career.

Marcus Rashford

The Manchester United talent can surely only get better. If he can become a regular starter, wherever he happens to play his club football then the teenager will hope to secure a place in Qatar.

Honourable mentions: Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Eddie Nketiah.

Who did we miss? Can England bring football home in 2022?

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England

Three Everton players who could help England bring football home in 2022

Everton have a long list of top talents coming through that could make it into the England team.

Mathew Nash

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England are out of the World Cup following defeat against Croatia in the semi-finals last night. But the future looks bright for England. They had the second youngest team in the tournament and are the current under-20 and under-17 World Champions.

So who could help them bring football home at Qatar 2022?

When looking at Everton’s current crop, it is hard to pick just one.

Ademola Lookman is an excellent attacker, although could be on his way. Callum Connolly’s versatility makes him a manager’s dream whilst Tom Davies had a brilliant 2016-17 season, even if last term was less impressive.

But here are the three Everton players who might have a chance of heading to Qatar in four years time.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Like England’s summer hero Harry Maguire the 21-year-old came through the ranks at Sheffield United. Since joining Everton his progress has been astonishing.

He is already a hero for England. He scored the winner for England’s under-20s last summer as they won the World Cup.

With striking positions set to be up for grabs in four years time, DCL will no doubt be in the running.

(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Kieran Dowell

The spindly playmaker is adored in the England and Everton set-ups for his God-given natural talent.

Stormed into a loan spell at Nottingham Forest last season, which admittedly dwindled toward the end.

But with his dexterity and ability, only injury and himself could hold Dowell back from making it to Qatar.

(during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Leicester, England.

Jonjoe Kenny

Dowell’s best mate and England’s trusted right-back at youth level. His cross-city rival Trent Alexander-Arnold may be catching the eye but Kenny is no slouch.

An exquisite crosser of the ball and defensively sound he is the Trippier if Alexander-Arnold is the Walker of England’s future right-back choices.

Like Dowell, eligible for Ireland, so England, must ensure the Everton pair are aware of their pathway.

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