It is now some time since Steven Gerrard revealed that his 17th year in Liverpool’s first team will be his last before heading off for one last hurrah in the Los Angeles sun. But that will do nothing to lessen the emotion on show when the man who has been the talisman for the club for so long makes likely his final competitive appearance in a Liverpool shirt in front of the Anfield faithful against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
It will be the end of an era that has very much been defined by Gerrard. While he will be remembered for playing a pivotal role in Liverpool’s highs during his time at the club, the fact that he has so often been the one bright spot during the bleak times will be equally treasured.
While other club legends like Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush played at a time when Liverpool were kings not only of England but of Europe, Gerrard existed in a very different era. It was a period during which Liverpool fans had to adjust to their club no longer being a dominant force after failing to adapt to new financial, globalized realities.
It is perhaps fitting then that Gerrard is the sole attraction on his farewell, with Liverpool sitting fifth in the table and having surrendered any realistic hope of making it into the Champions League next season. The opponents in his final home outing will also be a painful reminder of one the 34-year-old’s lowest points at the club. While so many of Liverpool’s legends could take league titles for granted, Gerrard has been unable to land a precious championship.
“It is not the only regret, I think it is the biggest,” he told BBC Sport.
It was just last season that he came so perilously close to ending the drought. Going into the final three games, the Premier League title was in Gerrard’s grasp, before he painfully let it get away courtesy of his infamous slip against Chelsea. Still a chance remained as Liverpool headed into their penultimate match against Crystal Palace. But after going into a 3-0 lead, Liverpool suffered a dramatic collapse and Gerrard’s last chance had gone.
“When I finish in a couple of weeks and reflect, that is certainly going to be the lowest point of my career,” he told Sky Sports about his mistake in the defeat to Chelsea. “You win or lose the league over a 38-game period, but I'm not stupid and I do realize that that moment was big. But I will always take full responsibility and take it on the chin - that's what I've tried to do.”
This season Liverpool have never even being close to the Premier League summit, and their hopes of giving a Gerrard a glorious farewell on his birthday were ended by Aston Villa in the FA Cup semifinals.
Gerrard’s performance in that encounter at Wembley showed why it is now surely the right time for him to step aside. His influence has waned and his lack of mobility has become an increasing liability in the hectic middle of the pitch.
But that should not detract from what he has achieved at the club. There was the triple haul of trophies in 2001, with the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup arriving as he established his influence upon the team. So often, though, he was the savior. There was his equalizer against West Ham in injury time of the 2006 FA Cup final that Liverpool went onto win and 18 months earlier a similar trademark dramatic wonder strike against Olympiakos to send his team through to the Champions League knockout phase. And it was in the final that season that his greatest moment arrived. Trailing 3-0 to a clearly technically superior Milan at halftime in the Champions League final in Istanbul, Gerrard pulled a goal back shortly after the interval to kick-start one of the greatest comebacks in history.
There will be no such elation on Saturday, instead just an emotional reminder of the past 17 years. And for Liverpool there will be a realization that they now have to go on and attempt to regain their place at the summit in England and Europe without their most inspiration figure
Despite an adequate showing, Liverpool were surprisingly lacking in urgency last week as they drew 1-1 with champions Chelsea in a match they needed to win order to maintain a realistic chance of overhauling Manchester United for fourth spot. They now trail their greatest rivals by six points and seven goals in the goal-difference column with two games left.
Their opponents will essentially have nothing to play for at Anfield, with Crystal Palace having long since secured their Premier League status. But having frustrated Chelsea for long spells in what was their title celebration two weeks ago, Alan Pardew’s side will doubtless again be unwilling to simply rollover and let Gerrard have his day.
Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra