Liverpool: Steven Gerrard answers critics, but questions remain
As he slid on his knees towards the corner flag, hands cupped behind his ears, Steven Gerrard's gleeful celebration of his free-kick against Everton could have been aimed at any number of critics.
From the 3,000 Toffees fans inside Anfield on Saturday who had been singing about his costly slip in last year's title race, to the media who have questioned all week whether he is a spent force, there have been plenty of people voicing their opinion about the Liverpool captain of late.
No wonder he wanted to listen to what they thought now.
True, Gerrard's 31st Merseyside derby would still ultimately end in disappointment thanks to a sensational injury-time equaliser from Phil Jagielka, who himself has come in for some stick recently.
But after Gerrard's form, and indeed his future for his club in a withdrawn midfield role, came under scrutiny this week following his poor performance against West Ham, his was still a timely response.
"Steven Gerrard sticks a free-kick in the net and a middle finger up to those that write him off," tweeted Match of the Day host Gary Lineker.
After the game, Gerrard would echo those comments - although he was a bit more polite in the way he did it - and clearly enjoyed being able to.
"I can take constructive criticism, but people go one step further and say you are finished and can't run anymore," Gerrard told BT Sport. "So it was nice to remind people that, at the age of 34, I can still play, I can still run and I am still around and I can still compete with the best players around."
He can still score too, of course, and his goal against Everton came from his only shot of the game. It was his 10th Merseyside derby goal, making him the highest scorer in that fixture in the Premier League era.
Impressive stuff. But then, as another BBC pundit, Robbie Savage, said this week, you should look beyond raw statistics when you evaluate Gerrard as the player he is now, because they only tell half the story.
That was the case at Anfield on Saturday. Everton offered so little going forward that we did not get to see if there was any improvement to the defensive aspects of his game. Instead of seeing Gerrard under pressure, we only found out if he could still help apply some.
Yes, his pass completion rate was 100% in the first half, almost 20% better than at Upton Park, but far more important to his team's attacking cause was the way he organised and - occasionally - berated those around him as Liverpool tried to find a way through Everton's well-drilled defence.
Right-back Javier Manquillo got a piece of Gerrard's mind on one occasion for not venturing far enough up his flank to give his captain the option of playing one of his trademark diagonal through-balls to a wide runner.
|A derby for Gerrard to remember|
|Gerrard has scored five times and assisted another two goals in his last six league Merseyside derbies||The midfielder is the top scorer in Premier League Merseyside derbies with nine|
|Gerrard's free-kick was his ninth Premier League goal against Everton||The Liverpool captain scored with his first shot of the day|
Instead, he had to play the ball sideways to one of his centre-backs, helping give him those impeccable stats at the break.
They reflected a more cautious approach, rather than a return to the expected standards in his trademark range of attacking passing, although he did manage two equally accurate raking balls out to Manquillo and Raheem Sterling before the break.
And it was all part of a performance that, while showing what Gerrard still has to offer as he kept up his record of playing of every minute of Liverpool's Premier League campaign, was also a reminder of what he is now unable to give.
No longer is he the man making driving runs forward. That job went to Jordan Henderson, who twice advanced to the edge of Everton's area, forcing Tim Howard into action with a stinging shot and setting up Sterling to do the same.
Gerrard, as we have become accustomed, stayed far further back.
And, even on a good day for the former England midfielder, Everton were often able to replicate the tactic already used by Aston Villa and West Ham this season, which is to use a player - in this case Steven Naismith - to deny Gerrard the space he needs deep in midfield to pick out players further up the pitch.
Do that, and you largely negate his influence from open play. That just leaves the sort of set-pieces that saw him provide the corner for Adam Lallana's dangerous header in the first half, and, of course, his own curling free-kick past Tim Howard.
No wonder his manager is keen for him to take more, with Rodgers explaining afterwards: "Steven is selfless and would rather let other people have the opportunity.
"He let Mario Balotelli take a few free-kicks in the first half and I was screaming on for him to take them because he has so much quality.
"When he did take one, it was a wonderful free-kick and he scored a goal that should have won the game. His performance was outstanding."
It was certainly a display that justified Rodgers' decision to stand by Gerrard, and he says he cannot understand the criticism his captain has been getting.
"The bits and pieces that I have heard I find remarkable," the Reds boss said.
"This is a player who, at 34, is still at a high level of football. He is at such a level in his game that players are man-marking him, so that shows you the influence that he still has in his game.
"When he is called upon to deliver, this is a guy who delivers continuously for this football club."
Undeniably, Gerrard did that again in the derby but, like the man himself, the question marks over his suitability for his current role are not going to just go away.