Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League last night by Basel in what was a European campaign that didn’t capture the imagination nearly as much as the Reds have managed to do in the past.
It was the season that promised so much but has, as of yet, delivered so little. Europe’s most prestigious tournament was back on Merseyside for the first time since the 2009/10 season and hopes were high but with five points in six games Liverpool just were not good enough this time round.
Steven Gerrard has been targeted with much of the negativity that has surrounded Liverpool this year. To say he answered his critics through one moment of magic with a free-kick last night would be wrong.
However, he stepped up to the plate when it mattered most, using his experience to score an exquisite goal and there is no doubting the leadership qualities he has, but at 34 and with Liverpool struggling in the Premier League and facing a Europa League campaign; is the only way the Reds legend will return to club football’s biggest tournament by winning it’s second tier equivalent?
One would think so when looking at the football the Merseysiders are playing, as well as where they currently sit in the Premier League table.
With tonight’s Champions League groups still to be decided, Liverpool are currently some bookmakers’ favourites to claim the title of Europa League champions. That could change depending on results tonight, but it is also the only sliver of hope this writer sees for the Liverpool legend of returning to the Champions League again.
What about domestically though? Do they have a chance of really challenging for the top four? Although the Reds are only six points off West Ham in fourth, it is the gap in style of play from Chelsea, Manchester United and Southampton etc. that would worry the Anfield faithful for the games to come.
The aforementioned sides have all have looked more threatening and even the challengers around Liverpool like Arsenal Manchester United and now even West Ham look to have more about them.
Individually Gerrard could move onto a club who are competing in the Champions League of course, but with the option of a new deal at the club on the table being reported, at this stage in Gerrard’s career it would be an unusual decision if he were to leave.
The chances of Gerrard moving to another English club are very unlikely and the days of the Reds’ captain being a major target for Europe’s top clubs appears to be diminishing, if not ceased already.
When looking at the squad he is in, they don’t seem to have the same faith in their own ability, nor the skill to back it up as they had only last May. Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel, solely based on last night’s display, were the only two players who stood out as being capable of turning things around at Anfield.
The new signings who have come in haven’t had the desired impact either. The team’s ability as a whole has been shown up, especially in Europe and to blame the departure of Luis Suarez has now become irrelevant.
Creatively in midfield, Sterling is the Reds’ only major outlet. He cannot compete solely to create chances and there is only so much Gerrard can do to set him free. Similarly, Gerrard cannot be the only provider of a decent ball through to either Rickie Lambert, or Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge once they return from injury.
There are more problems as a team at Liverpool than Gerrard can overcome individually. He is still one of their standout players. The teams performance as a whole has dropped however, with Gerrard being at times unfairly singled out. Unfortunately the side he is part of is not one this writer can see reaching Champions League standard again next season.
It would not be a fitting tribute to a player of the talent of Gerrard for his last game to be remembered as a 1-1 draw against Basel, even after scoring a magnificent free-kick. However, in all likelihood last night will be the last time we will witness Gerrard compete amongst Europe’s other elite players.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image By Ruaraidh Gillies [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons