What does Gerrard have left?
Three months after he so unfortunately slipped, Liverpool's Steven Gerrard is ready to go again. But is this one journey too far for the veteran midfielder? At the age of 34 and with his physical powers waning, can he still propel the club forwards? Perhaps, but Brendan Rodgers will have to manage his captain carefully this year.
Any discussion of Gerrard is always fraught with danger, as the comment box below will already doubtless testify. He is not just a player, he is an icon. He's the metaphorical crucifix that Liverpool fans have gripped in sweating palms while the storms rage outside their window. Through the promise and disappointment of the Gerard Houllier era, the rise and fall of Rafa Benitez, the darkness of Roy Hodgson, the triumphant return of King Kenny Dalglish and his subsequent usurpation, Gerrard has always been there for them, forever driving their midfield.
Rival fans will gleefully remind them of the day in 2005 when Gerrard, the one club legend, handed in a transfer request in an effort to join Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, but that is perhaps less relevant than they think. Ultimately, he didn't leave, not then and not on the countless other occasions when a spell of silverware collection at any of Europe's finest clubs must have appealed rather more than another year with Djimi Traore or David Ngog. That is why he is so revered on Merseyside. That and all the timely goals which, more often than not, have been lashed home from the edge of the box.
But there is no question that the Liverpool captain is in physical decline. His move to the rear of midfield was not so much a tactical decision as an acceptance that he no longer had the engine to clatter around between the boxes. Surprisingly, given the problems he has had in the past with clearly defined tactical roles, he adapted to his new responsibilities superbly.
This is the Gerrard who was always at his best when he was off the leash, who was once withdrawn from a frenetic Merseyside derby because Benitez wanted less heart and more head, and yet, for most of last season, he was pivotal to the cause of pursuing a league title. His passing was excellent and, with the notable exception of that crucial Chelsea game, he resisted the temptation to desert his post in an effort to "pick the game up by the scruff of the neck."
It would be silly to read too much into Gerrard's infamous slip, or for that matter into his error against Uruguay in the World Cup, which led to Luis Suarez's winning goal. Footballers fall over from time to time, and even if it just happens to be at the worst possible time, it's not as if he did it on purpose. As for the goal that effectively ended England's campaign in Brazil, it was as much the responsibility of the centre-backs as it was of Gerrard.
But for all that, there were other issues with his performances this summer. He should have been withdrawn after an hour against Italy when he was no longer able to cover as much ground and England were beginning to lose momentum. After a long season and on legs that have seen their share of punishment, he struggled. As part of a midfield three, two other men can do the running for him. As part of a midfield two, he wasn't mobile enough.
Liverpool had seen hints of that for themselves during a slightly awkward spell last season when Gerrard's absence through injury did not unduly affect their performances. In the four weeks that he was unavailable, Liverpool did lose two games, but they were away to Manchester City and Chelsea and were narrow defeats that were not without moments of controversy. The trio of Lucas, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen actually stood up very well. With Emre Can and the versatile Adam Lallana in the squad, Liverpool now have sprightlier, swifter options.
It has always been the case that only young players are allowed to have bad games. Older players are simply told that they're over the hill. However, that doesn't change the fact that Gerrard is now approaching the period of his career when it all falls away.
For now, he remains an important part of the team, not only for his performances on the pitch, but for the example that he sets off it. With a Champions League campaign on the horizon, Liverpool will play at least six more crucial games this season and, quite possibly, several more. Gerrard is not yet quite ready to be pensioned off.
But we saw with Jamie Carragher that Rodgers, for all of his flowery rhetoric, is not entirely driven by sentimentality. He dropped Carragher in his final season because he had better options. Soon, whether the Liverpool supporters want to admit it or not, he will have to do the same to Gerrard.