So after months of anticipation, the first game of the Premier League season is out of the way, and the Reds have 3 points on the board. Make no mistake about it, the absolute aim of every team in their first game of the season is to register maximum points. Result over performance is king on opening fixture weekend and to that effect, it is job done for Liverpool.
We wouldn’t be self respecting fans however if we didn’t offer a post mortem of our team’s performance. The two things we Liverpool fans were eagerly casting our eye over were the impact the loss of Luis Suarez would have on the fluidity and potency of the team; and whether or not Brendan Rodgers defensive re-enforcements would ensure Liverpool fans don’t have to endure another season of ‘heart in mouth’ action every time the ball leaves the ground and heads towards the penalty spot.
If we take the latter first; and look at the defensive situation. For me, Liverpool definitely looked more solid than they did last season (of course the proof will be over 38 games and not 1). Dejan Lovren definitely brings with him an air of dominance and leadership that at times last year was vastly absent from Liverpool’s back four. He is good in the air and on the floor, can take and receive the ball, is good with the ball at his feet and can read the game well. He showed all of these qualities today at some point or another and even more pleasing was that he seems to have re-awoken the ‘beast’ in Martin Skrtel who at times today looked like a player that reflects his shaven headed tattooed exterior. Liverpool may not have kept the clean sheet, but take nothing away from the Southampton goal, it was well worked with a great piece of skill in there and an even better finish. Highest praise however should be reserved for Liverpool’s young new right back, Javier Manquillo. The young Spaniard whilst still having a lot to learn; gave a solid, extremely competent performance. He has a decent turn of pace, doesn’t shirk the physical side of the game, was decent positionally and was happy to give an outlet going forward. He will be a welcome addition to the side. Praise should also be given to the captain for his role, especially in the last 20 minutes. Gerrard in the wake of the usual un-original taunts he will have to face from every team this season; never shirked the requirements of his role, that at times asks him to play as a third centre back, and often the last man between the rest of the side and his goalkeeper. When Southampton equalised and the pressure turned up on the home side; Gerrard was a constant presence, mopping up in front of the back four and providing the vital foot in when needed.
And so the Suarez effect, or lack of it, whatever way you want to address the issue. All eyes will have been on how Liverpool coped coming forward without the Uruguayan genius. The verdict I’m afraid will not be given until we are way into the season. Say what you want about Suarez, but the mention of his name will always court an opinion and controversy. To me; he was a hero. A legend. A genius. One of the best players I have ever seen in a Liverpool shirt and probably ever will. But he has gone and we move on. I am of the opinion that we ARE a stronger side on paper at least than what we were last season and indeed time will tell if on paper translates to in practice. I think Rodgers has bought well and I think there will be more before the deadline passes, with possibly a marquee signing so to speak.
Whilst Liverpool weren’t scintillating today; I wouldn’t read too much into it. No team has set the world alight in the first game this season and rather than it being anything to do with the absence of Suarez, for me; it was more down to a slight tactical error in the team selection. Liverpool invariably line up 433. Of the 3 midfield players, one is supposed to sit, one is the busy box to box player, and one is to be the advanced player who makes himself available in the final third to help link up with the front 3. Gerrard was and is the sitting player. Henderson was and is the busy player, box to box; always available for a pass. The issue today was the selection of Lucas. It meant there wasn’t a player in that midfield three who made himself available in the final third to link the play. Last season it was Coutinho or Sterling. This season it will probably be Lallana; but he was unavailable today due to injury. What all this meant was that Liverpool had three players in midfield who were all too similar, none of whom really wanted to offer themselves for a pass, whilst under pressure, in the final third of the field. The result of this was that players like Sterling, Coutinho and Sturridge in the front three had to drop deep far too often, turning into trouble in deep lying areas with very little outlet. With Lallana due to return to training next week; you would be certain that this problem will be overcome. The ex Southampton man is most at home in that final third, where he relishes receiving the ball under pressure, his low centre of gravity, quick feet and eye for a pass (and a goal) an asset that will have Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho licking their lips. With that said; you would presume that outside of any signings yet to come; the strongest most fluid XI would read Mignolet, Manquillo, Lovren, Skrtel, Moreno, Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana, Sterling, Sturridge, Coutinho.
I spoke last week about how for me, Coutinho can go a long way to offsetting the loss of Suarez. The Brazillian is a little genius, and a world class match winner. The big task for Rodgers is getting the performances out of him consistently, for 90 minutes. At times he can be guilty of disappearing in games and it has been noticeable that when he doesn’t start well, he generally won’t be at the races. If Rodgers can extract the maximum from him, then his South American counterpart will soon be relegated to fans memory banks.
Before I sign off, a mention also for Jordan Henderson. In his first season at the club, when he was often played out of position and carried the burden of the heavy price tag; many fans made him the custom scapegoat. Unfairly. Right now, he deservedly is one of the first names on the team sheet. His effortless work rate and ability to offer himself for a pass is infectious; he never hides and his determination to go through two challenges this afternoon, before releasing the inch perfect ball for Sterling to slot home the first goal was outstanding.
Onwards to City a week Monday now and the test of the Champions.