From the get-go, Steven Gerrard has been pretty consistent about one thing in his team – his midfield.
Always comprising two defensive midfielders and one central, Gerrard has stuck rigidly to this system, varying between Ross McCrorie, Ovie Ejaria, Ryan Jack, Andy Halliday, Scott Arfield, Jordan Rossiter and Lassana Coulibaly, and while there are a lot of theories about why he elects to do this (defensive protection being one), Saturday saw a dramatic shift in philosophy and a change in the system.
While it was still a three in midfield, for the borderline first time this campaign only one defensive midfielder was used, Ryan Jack. In Arfield and Ejaria, Gerrard deployed two central midfielders, and while Ejaria is supposed to be more creative, he’s not really delivered on that front. But in terms of composed central play in keeping the ball and feeding the flanks? He has.
And we do wonder if Gerrard has decided to change his midfield system permanently – because for the first time, we saw two or three genuinely cutting passes from Ejaria, two or three forward passes which nearly worked out with real chances.
Stretching back, it had been Jack and Coulibaly, or Halliday and Coulibaly, or Jack and Halliday – in all cases, a DM and a DM mostly behind Ejaria.
Now with the use of Arfield and Ejaria, Gerrard may be trying to get more forward flair and grit in his midfield, and if St Mirren was anything to go by, Ejaria was able to spread some creative passes forward to more effect as a result.
The ‘Barcelona model’ which all 4-3-3 systems aspire to are supposed to have a DM (Busquets/Toure), a CM (Xavi) and an AM (Iniesta). Gerrard’s has never followed this, with varying results.
But Saturday was something a little different – and while we weren’t overly enthused about Arfield’s display, he did still do quiet and decent work in there even if it wasn’t terribly glamorous.
Gerrard may just have found a small tinker to his system and we will see on Thursday if he intends to continue with that setup.