BERN, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Jonjo Shelvey (R) of Liverpool FC in action during the UEFA Europa League Group A match between BSC Young Boys and Liverpool FC at Stade de Suisse on September 20, 2012 in Bern, Switzerland. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
Very, very simple point to revisit for discussion, which we touched on before the season started--it's clear that Brendan Rodgers intends to pick a three-man midfield each time Liverpool lines up, and we can expect that there will be a fair bit of playing time for each of the midfielders in the senior squad. At current that involves Suso and excludes Lucas, leaving Rodgers with Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey, Nuri Şahin, and Steven Gerrard to choose from. What's less clear, however, is who the best personnel at the current moment is, with form, potential, and sentiment combining to make this a fairly uncomfortable and complex discussion.
The major caveat here is that there's very few midfielders, if any, who would keep Steven Gerrard out of the starting eleven. Whether or not that's deserved right now is one thing, but I think we can probably all agree that he'll continue to play, wobbly or not, unless fitness or suspension prevents him from being able to. I say that begrudgingly and with some level of guilt, all the while knowing that it's unlikely I'm wrong. Also in hopes that this conversation leads to a reverse jinx of him lighting it up from here on out.
Anyhow, the performances of those involved on Thursday hopefully complicates the discussion at least a bit, as the former put together one of his best displays in a Liverpool shirt and the latter continued the type of form that's seen him float between third- and fourth-choice to this point in the season. Şahin was solid if unspectacular, and made a competent and, according to Brendan Rodgers, arrogant (with a decidedly positive connotation) debut more advanced.
We can rule the young Spaniard out despite his encouraging play in Switzerland, however; he appears destined to make a number of appearances this season, and might start again as early as Tuesday, but he's not near the picking for the full first team and likely won't be for at least a few seasons. And while Nuri Şahin promises skill, technique, and competence on the ball, he still doesn't seem up to speed, even if he was statistically among Liverpool's best against Young Boys.
That leaves us with a contingent of Shelvey, Henderson, Allen, and Gerrard, and of those, only Allen is the easy selection. He's been terrific under Rodgers in his second-best position, and when Lucas returns we'll have two-thirds of this discussion settled. With the Brazilian still a couple of months off, though, it's going to be a work in progress with Allen deputizing.
Henderson's maybe the long shot given the divisiveness he inspires, with many content to label him a transfer failure and move along. But it's no secret we're of a different opinion, as he's one that we earmarked immediately after Rodgers' arrival as one who'd flourish, with talent, adaptability, and work rate all in his favor. That he's seen less time under a manager that seems a better fit is curious, but if Thursday's shift is a sign of things to come, he could and should be involved in any conversation about Liverpool's best midfield.
Likewise for Shelvey, just accelerated to now. Starting in the preseason he impressed, and that form has continued while others have faltered. He's not without his faults, particularly without the football and when asked to complete a tackle without taking a chunk of shin with him, but he's served as a catalyst for pushing Liverpool forward with well-timed runs from midfield and an urgency and confidence that few others in the squad possess.
Down to the captain, then, who for me is probably fourth-choice. He'll almost certainly play tomorrow, mind, and will be involved in the eleven longer than he should at this rate. He simply can't be undroppable at this point unless significant adjustments are made, and early indications are that changes will either be slow in arriving. If anyone deserves time it's him, but affording time for the sake of sentiment or reputation isn't going to do Liverpool any favors.
I'm going with Allen, Henderson, and Shelvey, with full disclosure that my Henderson bias knows no bounds. Allen's done the holding well and would benefit from Henderson's willingness to pressure and ability to run for days, and their presence would relieve Shelvey from one of the weaker parts of his game. It wouldn't be perfect, but at least it would give Liverpool a midfield committed to maintaining possession and working their socks off at both ends of the pitch. Rodgers needs that if his side are going to dominate matches in the manner he expects, and I think that right now those three put Liverpool in the best possible position to do that.
Right, so Gerrard to start and score a brace tomorrow?