The Liverpool captain is preparing to face Chelsea at Anfield on Saturday – and it will provide painful memories of his costly slip against the Blues last season
Not a game goes by for Steven Gerrard without being reminded by thousands of supporters of rival clubs about that costly slip against Chelsea that probably cost Liverpool the Premier League title last season.
Almost everyone believed the Reds were destined for their first title triumph since 1990 when Chelsea came to Anfield with three games to play, not least Gerrard.
But an 11-game winning streak was broken by the 2-0 defeat best remembered for the moment when Gerrard lost his footing on the halfway line and Demba Ba raced through to open the scoring just before half-time. Chelsea ruined the party and, of all people, it was Gerrard who let them do it.
Chelsea return to Merseyside on Saturday as league leaders and title favourites – and it will re-ignite some painful memories for Gerrard.
Luis Suarez, the Reds’ star man last term, has suggested in his autobiography that he would have retired if he was in the Liverpool captain’s shoes.
“If I had been in Stevie’s shoes, I don’t know if I would have been able to carry on playing,” the Uruguayan writes. “Emotionally, it must have been very, very hard.”
Suarez may be right. The mental scars of last season have been showing ever since – and will they ever heal?
Liverpool finished second in the league last season and the crushing disappointment was shortly followed by a miserable World Cup, where the 34-year-old captained England to their worst performance in a major tournament since 1958.
In the crucial defeat to Uruguay that ultimately eliminated the Three Lions, Gerrard misjudged the flight of the ball and headed for Suarez to race through and score the winner. His performance was deemed so bad that one Spanish newspaper refused to give him a match rating.
Gerrard subsequently retired from international football after 113 appearances for England to focus on Liverpool, where he has talked passionately about his enduring hunger and drive.
But the new campaign has not started well. Last season, Gerrard played 39 games in all competitions, scoring 14 goals and providing 16 assists as Liverpool’s deep-lying playmaker where he would control games and pick out the mobile strikers’ runs.
This year, the Reds captain has found himself ineffectual and man-marked out of games – particularly defeats to Aston Villa and West Ham – with the Merseyside club collecting just 14 points from their opening 10 league fixtures. His personal malaise has been reflected in the team’s performances and results.
Gerrard is a Liverpool legend and perhaps their greatest ever player. That Premier League crown is the only trophy that has eluded him at club level since he made his Anfield debut in November 1998.
But as he watched on from the substitutes bench as Liverpool lined up against Real Madrid on Tuesday night, Gerrard might have reflected that last season’s slip against Chelsea point was the turning point, the beginning of the end.
If he was hoping for some sort of redemption act this season, the title is already out of reach and Liverpool are now focusing on achieving a top four finish and scraping out of their Champions League group.
It is impossible to imagine Gerrard playing for any other club, but he says he will carry on elsewhere if Liverpool don’t offer him a new deal when his contract expires in the summer. Brendan Rodgers says he wants his skipper to stay for an 18th season at the club.
But Rodgers will also be well aware that Gerrard is in decline. After all the physical and emotional energy that went into last season’s title challenge, that slip was like deflating a hot air balloon that’s still collapsing today.
And Gerrard might have to accept that he will never be a Premier League champion.