• Captain deployed in a deeper midfield role
• Manager says this will benefit the club
Brendan Rodgers believes Steven Gerrard can exert the same influence as Andrea Pirlo or Javier Zanetti in a deeper midfield role and insisted the shift is not simply to prolong the Liverpool captain's career.
Gerrard's increasing deployment as a holding midfielder was illustrated perfectly in the win at Stoke City last weekend, when the 33-year-old operated in front of the Liverpool defence at the expense of his characteristic forays forward.
The Liverpool manager views the conversion as the inevitable next step for the England captain and a long-term move. But, while admitting the tactical tweak should help extend Gerrard's playing days, Rodgers insists the decision was taken for the benefit of Liverpool's Champions League pursuit rather than to accommodate his captain.
"It is a position that I know excites Stevie," said Rodgers, who has midfielder Joe Allen back from injury for Saturday's home game against Aston Villa. "I always look at every player not only in terms of their favourite position but where else can we prolong them? That applies especially to older players. Every player is different. But it's not as simple as putting him back into that role because he's Steven Gerrard; it's because I think he's got the qualities to play and operate in that position at a very high level."
The Liverpool manager believes Gerrard should flourish in a deeper position, similarly to 34-year-old Pirlo at Juventus and the remarkable Zanetti, now 40 and still performing for Internazionale.
He added: "Everything about his game fits with that controlling player; from how he co-ordinates a team with the ball, his range of passing, which is still at a top level, he is a world-class dead-ball specialist and physically, in that role where you need to move from side-to-side to block spaces, he has shown he has got that as well. And he's got the range to open up a game short and long.
"Tactically, once he does more work on when to become the third man dropping in or pushing on, he's got a great chance of playing that role to the level of a Pirlo or a Zanetti. They did it until late in their 30s and because of the way Stevie looks after himself that is a position he can play for sure."
Gerrard said only at the start of this season that he was not ready to cease incursions into the final third but Rodgers believes the Liverpool captain has come to accept the evolution into a deeper role. His decision, the manager explains, was not shaped by the ageing process but the realisation that Liverpool are no longer as reliant on the midfielder's goals with Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge in attack.
"He's a world-class operator at the top end of the field and he still has the moments when he can affect that," insisted Rodgers. "What we have seen is the evolution of the team. In my work the reliance isn't just on one player, it's on the team.
"Obviously top players will make that work better and I think he's seen that, where his role was very much about creating goals and scoring goals, he has seen the development of the team in terms of the number of goals scored and there is not the reliance on him for that. He has other big qualities that can really help the team and help his career as well. You will still get that flurry from him where he can go on and shoot."