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Steven Gerrard’s words show exactly what Liverpool are missing after leaving the Champions League



Steven Gerrard’s words show exactly what Liverpool are missing after leaving the Champions League

Liverpool exited the Champions League on Wednesday night with a whimper at the hands of Real Madrid

“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning in the UEFA Cup.”

Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard reportedly took such a bite on the eve of the crucial 2004 Champions League group stage match against Olympiakos. future if Rafa Benitez’s side failed to qualify for Europe’s elite competition, it was the aforementioned quote that dominated the closing pages the next morning.

Liverpool needed to beat the Greeks by two goals to qualify for the knockout stages at their expense. It looked as if Gerrard’s words were going to bite him, as Liverpool were 1-0 down at half-time thanks to a Rivaldo free kick. However, the Reds’ talismanic captain would grab the game by the scruff of the neck as he scored his most iconic late goal to clinch a much needed 3-1 win.

It was neither the first nor the last time the midfielder stepped up to drag his team over the line. Istanbul 2005 and Cardiff 2006 immediately come to mind as Liverpool came from behind in the most dramatic fashion to lift both the Champions League and FA Cup.

Yet his Reds career has been littered with these ‘Roy of the Rovers’ examples. Whenever Liverpool needed him, whatever the occasion, Gerrard delivered, often a league above those around him.

What would Jürgen Klopp’s current team do for such a player. Admittedly, German side Liverpool were the best of the Premier League era. Gerrard won every major honour, including his first elusive league title since 1990. Gerrard knows full well he was born a generation too early as he reflects on what happened after he hung up his boots.

But now that side is at the end of his cycle, he’s getting older and he’s stuck in transition. While the Reds won an unprecedented nearly four times last year, they fell narrowly short at the end of the season.

They would go on to win a domestic cup double but failed to score against Chelsea at Wembley on either occasion as the penalties determined the destination of both the League Cup and the FA Cup.

On the decisive last day of the Premier League, Man City recovered from a 2-0 defeat against Aston Villa to clinch victory and the title. By the time Liverpool took the lead against Wolves in their last game, Pep Guardiola’s men had already turned their game around. Despite the chances there were, the Reds never came close to the trophy as they only missed by one point.

And then there was Paris, who failed to overcome Real Madrid in the Champions League final. They lost 1-0, went goalless in a final and once again went unanswered.

This was still a team studded with Liverpool legends who won all the major honours. Together they were brilliant. But as individuals, no one could step forward to make the crucial impression that Gerrard repeatedly gave when his team needed it most.

Perhaps we took such a trait for granted, but when the Reds took on Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night, they were in desperate need of a new miracle worker. With an overall deficit of 5-2 after the humiliation at Anfield, they never looked ready to close that gap in Spain.

Liverpool would stab Thibaut Courtois’ gloves more than once like they had in Paris, but they still looked disappointed and uninspired. Lacking ideas, they leave Europe moaning.

In truth, we shouldn’t be surprised. This was the story of Klopp’s men’s season. They sit sixth in the Premier League table, six points behind the top four, across all three cup competitions.

Since they weren’t in action this weekend, they could drop to seventh place and see the gap widen to nine points. As they travel to Manchester City and Chelsea before hosting Arsenal in their next three Premier League games after the international break in March, with 12 games left of their season, they have everything to do to finish in the top four.

Liverpool need a hero. They need one of their players to step up, grab matches by the scruff of the neck and drag teammates over the line. However, this Reds team has aged together.

All club legends, they have won multiple times together over the past six years. But now they are losing together and it costs Klopp a lot of money.

Of course, Father Time is catching up with us all, even the greatest Reds player of all time. When Gerrard reached veteran status, his boots lost what little pixie dust they had.

He would still be one of Liverpool’s best players and enjoy pivotal moments, but he might not be able to win a game on his own anymore. Chelsea’s infamous slip-up in 2014 will show as much as they tried unsuccessfully to make up for a moment that proved costly for the Reds’ title. The following December, in what would prove to be Gerrard’s last Champions League appearance, he scored a late free kick to equalize against Basel as Liverpool aimed for qualification for the knockout stages. But this time, 10 years after Olympiacos’ iconic victory, there would be no winner as the Reds exited Europe’s elite competition.

Over the next few months, Gerrard and Liverpool lost to Chelsea in the semi-finals of the League Cup. He watched helplessly, absent through injury, as the Reds exited the Europa League on penalties from Besiktas, and could do nothing to prevent a dismal 2.-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat by Aston Villa.

With the final coming up on the midfielder’s 35th birthday, the way was cleared for Gerrard, who had already announced he was leaving the club at the end of his contract, to leave his childhood club in a big way. Unfortunately, that cup trip ensured there would be no fairytale ending at Wembley.

A 3-1 defeat to Crystal Palace in his final Anfield appearance and an embarrassing 6-1 defeat away at Stoke City in which he scored at least the Reds’ consolation, in his 710th and final appearance for the club has just put some extra salt in the wounds. Although it once seemed that Gerrard could turn a match in his side’s favor with the click of his fingers, the days of him dictating matches for Liverpool are long gone.

It was a bench at the Bernabeu in November 2014 that made Gerrard decide to move on. Arriving at Real Madrid’s iconic stadium for the first time since a 1-0 defeat eight and a half years ago, the Reds’ latest narrow defeat marked the end of an era.

While Liverpool are not in as serious a situation yet, the likes of Virgil van Dijk and even Mohamed Salah aren’t consistently deciding matches like they once did when they were at their peak. Now they just need that little help.

The Reds are in limbo, hoping their transition period will only last one season as they wait for their next generation to take over and their next talisman to emerge.

They need their next Steven Gerrard. Admittedly, such a concept is much easier said than done, since such a player only comes around once in a generation. Perhaps this is what Jude Bellingham will be like if Liverpool are successful in their attempts to sign the Borussia Dortmund man.

But such a chase is at risk following the Reds’ European departure, with uncertainty as to whether they will also play in the Champions League next season. The implications of such a loss, on and off the pitch, can be crippling.

Liverpool can’t wait for the summer to end, they need to find answers now. A hero must emerge from within.

Gerrard is gone to save the Reds and has been gone for some time. No doubt they haven’t lost even that individual majority winning trait since his departure given what Klopp has managed to build. Why rely on just one player when you have a great team?

But this elite Liverpool side are now on their last legs, with the possibility of one last piece of silverware long gone and without a guiding talisman that can offer that extra something to inspire those around them. Klopp can only hope they rediscover the lost battle that was so clearly missing at the Bernabeu during the international break in March to ensure the Reds’ changing of the guard goes as smoothly as possible.

Liverpool don’t want to spend next season outside the Champions League. Such a fact is obvious, and his lodge and manager have repeatedly said so.

But now that Gerrard demonstrated against Olympiakos in 2004, they must persevere and ensure that such statements are not just empty words.

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