Following Monday’s defeat in Manchester; I was looking forward to yesterday’s game with high flying Spurs, strangely, with a sense of excitement and a philosophical mind set that the game represented a chance for us to take defeat on the chin and bounce back in style. We didn’t disappoint.
Spurs have made a good start to the season and will always represent a challenge on home turf, but I was confident that if we played as I know we can, we would get chances and score goals. Let’s not forget, we rattled 9 past them last year without reply.
Pre match chat was always going to be dominated by Mario. On the journey down to the capital, word started to reach us that he was starting and whilst everyone knows my concerns with the Balotelli signing; I do have to say that it did give a lift and sense of wonderment and excitement. Word on the street all week was that he had been fantastic in training, both with the ball and with the players and staff and long may that continue.
Indeed the Italian should have opened his account after two minutes, failing to convert a text book headed opportunity that would have sent the travelling Kop and the football world alike into rapture. It didn’t take much longer however for Liverpool to take the lead, the breakthrough coming on seven minutes. A slick move between Sturridge and Henderson seeing Raheem Sterling turn home at the far post for his second goal of the season.
Sterling is vastly turning into a world class footballer at 19 years of age. When I first saw him as a 15 year old kid, I knew it then and I said it then. When he was first blooded in the first team; he showed flashes of that talent then, and when he was called on by Rodgers early in his reign (probably a bit more than Brendan would have liked to with a sparse squad), he again left fans with a sense of excitement that longed for more if not a small sense of concern with some of the players immaturities off the field and some inexperience on it.
It was at this point that I think we saw two things as fans. The man management and personal skills of our manager and the proof that young, talented footballers with the world at their feet and the trappings of fame and fortune skewing their every decision; CAN make the right choices. It is a lesson and an example that Mario himself would do well to look at whilst he navigates himself through the make or break next few months of his football career.
Brendan took the young Sterling out of the lime light, faced with issues in his personal life and faced with burn out on the pitch as a raw 17 year old. He took him out, sat down with him with the team at the club and worked with the player to iron out any issues. He took the same approach on the football pitch, working on the players weaknesses mentally and physically before putting him back into contention for first team action. What returned to the first team was a mature level headed young man. Free of personal issues; tactically more aware, with eradication of notable weaknesses in is game and vast improvements in others. A player on the verge of stardom, who captured the nations imagination at the World Cup and catapulted himself to the attention of the world. Just look at the way he has adapted to being able to not only play as a winger, but through the middle and more specifically yesterday at the point of the diamond. He crucified Spurs all game; and if not for a weak finish, would have registered a contender for goal of the season after a mazy dribble past a number of bemused Spurs players. The whole situation shows that if you are prepared to help yourself; then you are half way there. Over to you Mario…….
And speaking of Mario; the Italian demonstrated a willingness to work for the team that we haven’t seen before in his game. Brendan indicated yesterday that in training last week; the player was asked to mark a man at defensive corners. Mario retorted; “I don’t mark at defensive corners,” to which the manager replied, “You do now.” On more than one occasion; he won headers in his new role. He held the ball up well and got through a decent amount of running. He did however, show signs of rustiness and will need time to adapt to the role as part of a front three that will mean he needs to be flexible in the positions he takes up in relation to the players around him. He missed a great opportunity just before half time to double the Liverpool lead following an error by Hugo Lloris that presented him with the opportunity to lob home from distance but the half volley was shanked wide.
Liverpool could thank Mignolet for the fact they went in 1-0 up at half time, the Belgian saving well from just before half time. It took Liverpool no time whatsoever in the second half to double the lead, Allen being felled by Dier’s soft challenge. It’s fair to say all eyes were on the Captain as he stepped up top convert the spot kick superbly. It was the first spot kick he has had to take since his much publicised slip against Chelsea last year that fans of clubs all over the country have taken delight in singing from the terraces about. The Captain didn’t disappoint, his nerves of steel matching his world class talent.
With Spurs huffing and puffing, the travelling Kop were furnished with a special treat, a wonderful solo goal from Alberto Moreno. The Spanish full back dispossessing Aaron Lennon with dogged defending and then racing the length of the field to dispatch a wonderful left footed strike past Lloris before joining the reds fans to celebrate.
Liverpool look to have done a wonderful piece of business with the signing of both Spanish full backs Maquillo and Moreno. They look every inch the modern full back. They can attack, defend, are good positionally, can tackle, can cross and can strike a ball. The entire back four looked solid I thought yesterday, bar a couple of lapses in concentration. Sakho needs to work on his propensity to give hospital balls to team mates when he isn’t really under any pressure but that is something that will surely come. Lovren was outstanding. He provides an aura of solidity missing for many years, since the day of Hyypia and Henchoz, and long may it continue.
So. Three points. Back on track following the results for other teams over the weekend. A fantastic performance and Mario’s debut done and dusted with nothing but positives. Onto Villa following the international break!
Oh and one last thing; I thought the atmosphere was outstanding yesterday from Liverpool fans. I felt good. Really good.
Christopher William Shankly Carline