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Can Fabian Delph step into Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard’s shoes?

Liverpool, 5/1 for a top four finish with Coral, may have their problems in the present but also appear to be planning for the future — one without skipper Steven Gerrard.

The Reds captain’s contract expires next summer and, with no news of a new deal and persistent rumours of a move to the MLS, Liverpool are said to be in the market for a replacement.

Gerrard has made over 660 appearances for his boyhood club, scoring 171 goals and providing 100 assists along the way, as well as leading Liverpool to a fifth Champions League trophy. These stats don’t even begin to cover how influential the 34-year-old has been, however.

Brendan Rodgers has used Gerrard sparingly this season but, should he depart, the Reds will need a new leader in the middle of the park.

The Anfield outfit already have exciting attacking playmakers like Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho in their ranks, so with Gerrard now operating in a deeper role, Liverpool are supposedly looking for a more defensive-minded recruit.

Reports suggest the Premier League giants are interested in acquiring the services of Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph. The four-capped England star was making waves with his tenacious performances this term, before being sidelined by a dislocated shoulder.

Now fit again, the Villans’ 2014 Player of the Year could potentially be tasked with stepping into Gerrard’s shoes for both club and country, but does the 25-year-old have what it takes to pick up the mantle?

Liverpool already have Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva to provide hustle and bustle in midfield and could perhaps do with a player who can create and dictate from deep, or a box-to-box all-rounder who can burst forward ala Gerrard in his pomp.

Leeds academy product Delph did start his footballing career as an attacking midfielder, with his pace and skill attracting much attention from Premier League big boys.

It was Villa who eventually stumped up the cash for the then highly-rated starlet, but after initial struggles to adapt to the top tier, Delph was also shifted to a deeper position, a role he now thrives in .

The midfielder does potentially have the tools then, to fill what would be a sizeable Gerrard-shaped hole at Anfield, possessing the technique and attacking instincts to also offer threat further forward.

It is Delph’s energy and exuberance that could lift Liverpool the most, but the Bradford-born Three Lions international needs a partner like fellow Villan and composed conductor Ashley Westwood to bring out the best in him.

Delph’s current contract runs out at the end of this season, making him a potential bargain buy in January, but the Villa Park hero should be wary before taking on the challenge of replacing Gerrard.

A record of just six goals and three assists in 110 outings for Aston Villa suggests Delph will not be a match-winner like Gerrard, and it is certainly an area he could do to improve upon if playing at a club with Champions League ambitions.

Delph’s attributes could, however, potentially make him a consistent force for the Reds, particularly if he can enhance his leadership skills and take to the Anfield stage without fear.

Recent buys from mid-table clubs like Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert have not yet been able to make that step up.

Talented Delph should instead look to Michael Carrick’s example. The former Tottenham man moved to Manchester United for a large fee, taking over the famed number 16 shirt that previously belonged to Roy Keane.

So different in style from his predecessor, quietly effective Carrick did not, and could not, try to replicate all-action Keane and is now one of United’s most important players.

Delph may not be able to provide the goal threat or set piece nous of Gerrard, or even the Hollywood passes from deep, but perhaps that is not what Liverpool, 4/1 to win the Capital One Cup, really need in that position.

A direct replacement for decorated Gerrard as a skipper or game-changer may be almost impossible to find, but an effective midfielder should be much easier to locate, as long as they are not expected to be captain fantastic.