Farewell, Steven Gerrard: A tribute to the Liverpool legend and his finest performances
As Steven Gerrard bids farewell to the beautiful game, here's something to remember the maestro's brilliance and the performances which made him a legend.
At the age of 18, Steven Gerrard stepped foot onto Anfield's hallowed turf as a 90th-minute substitute for Liverpool against Blackburn Rovers. Little did we know then that he would go on to lead both his club and country, making over 800 combined appearances in the 17 seasons that followed; a feat matched by a select few. Although rival fans remember him fondly for his infamous slip, there's no denying that he was one of his generation's finest footballers. His importance to his club is demonstrated evidently by his statistics over the years. His 119 goals in the league put him second in the goal-scoring midfielders list, and his 99 assists make him the third highest chance creator. Here's a look at some performances by Merseyside's beloved son which made the world take notice of his brilliance, and cemented his place as a Liverpool legend and one of Premier League's very best.
Liverpool vs AC Milan, 2005 Champions League final
While the "miracle in Istanbul" is well-remembered by scores of Liverpool fans, the sheer magnitude of the achievement is often lost on most of us. Liverpool were being crushed, trailing 3-0 at half-time against an AC Milan side at the peak of their powers, with talents like Kaka, Hernan Crespo, Andrea Pirlo, Andriy Schevchenko and Gennaro Gattuso. One couldn't have faulted the Reds had they gone into damage limitation mode — sitting back to avoid further humiliation. Gerrard had already almost single-handedly led his team through the tournament, all the way to the momentous final, and he wasn't going down without a fight. He scored a sumptuous header to begin Liverpool's comeback, and a few minutes later won the penalty which officially sealed it. He ended the game filling in at right-back, where his tenacity and versatility were put to good use. A broken AC Milan were ultimately beaten by Liverpool on penalties, and a 24-year-old Gerrard became the second youngest European cup winning captain, etching his name in record books and fans' hearts everywhere. Gerrard himself remembered that night fondly on the eve of his retirement, saying "I am proud to have played over 700 games for Liverpool, many of which as captain, and to have played my part in helping the club to bring major honours back to Anfield, none more so than that famous night in Istanbul."
Liverpool vs West Ham, 2006 FA Cup final
Liverpool looked set for a shock defeat, trailing West Ham 2-0 in the 30th minute. Gerrard rallied his troops, and delivered a picture perfect diagonal ball to set up Djibril Cisse's goal. He then volleyed home to level the scores at 2-2. The London club struck again through a Paul Konchesky goal to crush the Kop's hope, but Gerrard, who had overcome greater odds merely a season ago, rippled the net with a stunning long-range strike in the dying embers of the game to tie it 3-3. In classic Liverpool fashion, the resulting penalty shootout was won, and Gerrard added another title to his envious trophy cabinet.
Manchester United vs Liverpool, 2008/09 Premier League
Gerrard and Fernando Torres combined to devastating effect in a game where they left the Red Devils red-faced. This was the same Manchester United side that went on to win the league and reach the Champions League final that year, but a Gerrard-led Liverpool made them look like relegation candidates on that fateful day at Old Trafford. United took an early lead courtesy a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty, while Liverpool were yet to get a foothold in the game. But once the Merseysiders got going, they couldn't be stopped. Torres capitalised on Nemanja Vidic's mistake to equalise, and Gerrard converted a penalty he won soon after, celebrating with the iconic camera kiss which haunted United in 2014 as well. Vidic, arguably the league's best defender at the time, fell prey to Gerrard's trickery in the 75th minute and was sent off for the resulting foul. Liverpool took full advantage of the extra man to score another two goals and seal United's fate. This 4-1 win was Liverpool's first against the Manchester club in the Premier League since 2002.
Liverpool vs Real Madrid, 2009 Champions League last 16
Just four days prior to their rout of United, another European heavyweight was schooled by Liverpool, and Gerrard was the headmaster that night. He acted as his side's attacking catalyst, linking defence to attack and asserting his influence all over the pitch. He scored two wonderful goals on a night where Liverpool displayed fluid attacking team football, winning 5-0 on aggregate and thoroughly embarrassing Real Madrid.
Liverpool vs Everton, 2011/2012 Premier League
At a time when Gerrard's powers were said to be on the wane, he produced one of his best ever performances. The stage was set for the Gerrard show that night at Anfield, and Stevie G surely had a night to remember. His interplay with Luis Suarez dizzied the Everton defence and dazzled the home crowd. The Liverpool captain struck home thrice and his glorious hat-trick was reminiscent of all the wonderful performances he delivered for his club in the past. The Kop was understandably roaring that evening, as their hero put their rivals to rest in clinical fashion.
Gerrard epitomised what it meant to be a "one-club man" with the passion he showed every time he put on a Liverpool shirt (even the horribly designed one). Although many players like Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Torres and Suarez arrived, struck gold, and moved along; he stayed loyal to his club and gave his 100 percent every time he was called upon. His marauding presence in midfield, and his dogged determination to win harked back to the Roy Keane of yore, with an added flair for finding the net. He also was an integral part of England's "golden generation"; but despite his greatest efforts, the Three Lions couldn't convert opportunities into trophies. Although his loyalty, ability and passion were never rewarded with the ever elusive Premier League title, Gerrard can retire a happy man, knowing his club and country are forever indebted to him.
Chelsea's evening was marred by an injury to Romelu Lukaku, who hobbled off after being hurt winning the first penalty of the night midway through the first half.
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