Philippe Coutinho’s exceptional 25-yard strike gave Liverpool a 1-0 win against Stoke City on the opening day of the 2015/16 Premier League season.
Little over three months ago Brendan Rodgers’ side had been left embarrassed after being thrashed 6-1 by the Potters on the final day of the 2014/15 campaign.
The game was closely contested and it took a wonder goal by Coutinho to separate the pair, and there were several things learned about the Reds’ performance.
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Benteke should not be used as ‘big target-man’
Christian Benteke arrived at Liverpool for £32.5 million and there were many sceptical about his transfer.
At Aston Villa, he primarily scored his goals from crosses and thrived when the aerial ball was played towards him.
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Rodgers is not a man who encourages ‘route one’ football. He usually insists on a more passing style that unlocks defences through pace and movement. This is what Benteke was expected to adapt to.
There were some indications the Belgium international would have to fit around how Liverpool play. After just two minutes Coutinho looked to play a through ball into Benteke’s path only for it to be blocked.
However, as the game progressed, long balls were played to the 24-year-old more and more. In recent seasons Simon Mignolet has played the ball out from the back to one of his defenders; however, on numerous occasions he hit a long-field pass that targeted Benteke. Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson also tried similar but both did not come off.
With flair players such as Coutinho, Lallana and Jordon Ibe on the pitch, there is no chance they can make an impact that they should when launching the ball forward. They want to drag defenders towards them and take them on or play perfectly weighted through balls to team-mates who’ve thrust into space/
On the occasions Benteke won the long-ball, he struggled having no strike partner around him and Stoke were able to mop up any potential dangers. He was left isolated and received little of the ball. He wanted the ball into feet but in the early stages of his Anfield career did not gel with his team-mates who wanted the run into space instead.
There were signs the former Genk man could come good; however, if Rodgers continues to insist on playing long balls to Benteke upfront on his own, it will not work and he’ll fail much like Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert. Benteke must play around the playmakers.
Henderson and Milner may not work
When James Milner’s transfer was announced it pleased almost every Liverpool fan out there. They were gaining a player who has a wealth of experience at the top level and a sound replacement for Brendan Rodgers.
He was destined to partner Henderson in the midfield and, with both renowned for their relentless energy, looked a formula that was destined for glory.
However, after the game against Stoke, this may not be the case and could well be the opposite.
Both are too similar players; they thrive when playing the box-to-box role in the centre of the park, thrusting into the box when they get the chance to attack. Unfortunately, one of them had to be sacrificed and play as a holding midfielder.
It was new captain Henderson who took on the role and was consistently outsmarted by Charlie Adam. The England international committed far too many fouls and, when on the ball, looked too anxious to make things happen instead of keeping it simple if needs be. Stoke did not have any recognised playmaker and Henderson could struggle when meeting better teams with a specialist in the area.
Milner has plenty of ability to create chances in the final third; he is composed on the ball and, playing at Manchester City previously, is used to the smart movement of Coutinho and Ibe. However, he lacks that real intent and drive which Henderson has displayed in the past.
The former Sunderland man had one darting run into the path when Milner chipped the ball but could not find Benteke at the back post. It was an encouraging piece of football and suggested it may work more effectively if the pair switch roles.
Can could be the answer
Coutinho’s strike was absolutely sublime and he has indeed become the star of Liverpool’s team.
From the first whistle he looked to dazzle Mark Hughes’ side and looked so elegant when on the ball.
However, much like Henderson and Milner, there was confusion between him and Lallana. Whereas Ibe started right-wing and stuck to his role out wide, Lallana drifted in from the left and often got in the way of Coutinho.
When Emre Can replaced Lallana the game completely changed. Liverpool had an extra man in the midfield who was willing to challenge for the ball and stay central and allowed Coutinho to drift from the left and cut inside without there being any confusion. That is the area his goal come from and where more chances were created from.
Can had a very good tournament at this summers Under-21s European Championships for Germany in the middle of midfield. He offers aggression and awareness going forward and has a great future ahead.
With a further seven faces arriving at Liverpool this summer, getting a game on a regular basis is no guarantee to any.
Rodgers’ squad is so rich in depth that one bad performance could see anyone out of the fire-line in an instant.
Not in the 16 man squad at the Britannia were a number of high-profile players. Lazar Markovic cost £20 million last summer from Benfica but was left on Merseyside and £16 million was paid to PSG for Mamadou Sakho two years ago with 34-year-old Kolo Toure making the bench instead. Likewise Lucas Leiva was not picked by his manage rto travel to Staffordshire and it’s highly unlikely Joe Allen would have been if fit.
Danny Ings was about to come on prior to Coutinho’s goal, but that meant Divock Origi was to remain on the bench. One wonders what will happen to Origi when Daniel Sturridge is declared fully fit once again.
If Lallana’s poor form continues, new boy Roberto Firmino, who had an impressive cameo against Stoke, is lurking to gain a stranglehold in Liverpool’s starting XI.
Nobody’s position is safe at Anfield this season and players will have to take their chances when given the chance, which may be in the early stages of both the League Cup and Europa League.