Gerrard stomps out Liverpool's top four hopes
Brian Wright - Soccer Editor|
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool Football Club legend and unquestionably one of the greatest players in the history of the English game.
He has been with Liverpool his entire career, joining the club's academy program at the age of 9 before making his first team debut in 1998. Since the debut, Gerrard has served as captain since 2003 and made 696 appearances while scoring 182 goals across all competitions.
The Liverpool native also has led the Reds to 10 trophies over the past 15 years, including two FA Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup and the 2005 UEFA Champions League title, in which he famously brought his team back from a 3-0 halftime deficit against AC Milan and won on penalty kicks.
He's also made 114 appearances and scored 21 goals for the England national team over a 14-year international career.
Gerrard is set to begin a new chapter in his career in July when he leaves Liverpool to join Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, and despite all the success he's had with Liverpool, it's possible the most memorable Gerrard moments of the past few seasons are not positive ones.
The first of those has become known simply as "the slip," referring to when he slipped on the Anfield turf in a Premier League match against Chelsea last season, which allowed Demba Ba to run in unimpeded and score, costing the Reds a 2-0 defeat and essentially a first-ever Premier League title.
While not the definitive reason the Reds finished two points behind last season's champion, Manchester City, it is seen as the defining moment of the campaign for a club that overachieved its way to becoming the feel-good story of the season and a player who is revered by so many fans.
Despite that, what occurred on Sunday against arch-rivals Manchester United was much more heinous and shocking.
It can be characterized, again in simple terms, as just "the stomp."
Liverpool and United entered Sunday's tilt at Anfield with plenty on the line. United was sitting in fourth place, two points ahead of Liverpool in the battle for the coveted Champions League berth.
Despite being the in-form team of 2015, Liverpool struggled to get into the game in front of the home fans and found itself behind at the intermission, 1-0.
Manager Brendan Rodgers sent Gerrard onto the pitch for the start of the second half, hoping his captain would be able to influence the game and turn the tide in favor of the home side.
Gerrard certainly influenced the game, but probably not as he had hoped.
Just seconds after referee Martin Atkinson blew his whistle to start the second half, Gerrard quickly got into the game with a vicious but clean tackle to win the ball from United's Juan Mata.
Gerrard then went into a physical challenge with United's Ander Herrera and what followed can only be described as a moment of pure madness.
After taking exception to Herrera's late attempt to win the ball, Gerrard inexplicably stomped on the leg of Herrara. With Atkinson close by to witness the incident, it earned Gerrard a straight red card.
He lasted just 43 seconds on the pitch before being given his dismissal orders.
Gerrard handed the captain's armband back to Jordan Henderson and Liverpool fought valiantly a man down, but came up short, 2-1, and are now five points behind United for fourth place.
But the question on every Liverpool fan's mind after the game was simple:
While not exactly out of character for Gerrard, what is most surprising is seeing a player of that stature losing his cool in a match of supreme magnitude. A win would have taken the Reds two points clear of United.
Gerrard has always had a physical edge to his game -- he's been sent off eight times in his career and four of those have come against either United or Merseyside rivals Everton -- but considering this was his last Premier League match against United in a Liverpool kit, he surely wouldn't have wanted it to end after less than a minute.
Like any good professional, Gerrard took responsibility for his transgression:
"I need to accept it. The decision was right," he told Sky Sports. "I have let my teammates and manager down today -- even more importantly, I let all the supporters down and I take full responsibility for my action.
"I tried to jump his tackle, I saw his studs and I reacted wrong. I've been in the game long enough to know when you do something like that, especially at the timing of the game, at halftime with 45 to play, a great opportunity to get back in the game. I take full responsibility for it."
Kudos for owning up to it, but while he apologized to the fans, his teammates and his manager, one person was conspicuously absent from that statement and deserving of an apology - Herrera.
Slow-motion replays of the incident showed Gerrard intentionally stomped on Herrera's leg with considerable force and clear intent to injure.
Frankly, he's lucky he didn't break Herrera's leg.
But again, in a match of such importance, why do that?
Perhaps he was frustrated with the fact he didn't play in the club's last game against Swansea City and didn't start on Sunday, and that frustration erupted at the wrong time.
Former teammate and current Sky Sports television pundit Jamie Carragher believes that was the case.
"There's no doubt that not playing at Swansea and then not playing this game would be a frustration," Carragher said. "He's been at Liverpool 17, 18 years, he's always been the man, the captain -- there's never been a case where he's been out of the team and as soon as he's fit he goes straight back in the team. This is the first time I think, last week at Swansea and, today, that hasn't happened, so there'll be frustration there."
Whatever the reason, Gerrard has put his team in a terrible spot heading into the stretch run of the Premier League.
With eight games to go in the league campaign plus the FA Cup quarterfinal replay against Blackburn Rovers on the horizon, the Reds face a tough task if they hope to make up the five-point gap between themselves and United.
A straight red card carries an additional three-match suspension, meaning Gerrard will be unavailable for next week's clash with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium as well as the replay against Blackburn on April 8 and against Newcastle United on April 13.
Without Gerrard, the Reds have looked disorganized in midfield, and that could prove costly against Arsenal. Anything less than three points could spell the end of Liverpool's top-four hopes.
Gerrard will be eligible to return on April 18 against Hull City, and from that point, Liverpool has six matches left in the season, with only a trip to Stamford Bridge against Chelsea on May 9 posing a serious threat.
Rodgers' club's Champions League hopes aren't dead as the run-in looks fairly straightforward and United is certainly capable of dropping points along the way.
But if Liverpool ultimately finishes outside the top four come the final whistle on May 24, look to that stomp on Herrera's leg as a big reason why.