Liverpool’s first game of the 2014-15 season saw them beat Southampton 2-1 at Anfield. There were positives and negatives to take from the match, but a lot of it was only reinforcing what we already knew.
To start with the plus points, Dejan Lovren picked up where he left off against Dortmund and put in a great performance at the back. So often last season our defence looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights when facing an attack, but the Croatian emits a sense of dominance and control, and he has the strength, pace, ability, and reading of the game to take charge of situations. Martin Skrtel has always benefitted from playing alongside such a player, and hopefully as he follows Lovren’s lead, the two can strike up an effective defensive partnership.
Javier Manquillo was solid if unspectacular on his debut, but I had to remind myself that he is only 20 years old, and was thrust straight into the team when he may have expected to be eased in a bit more. The absence of Jose Enrique, Jon Flanagan, and Alberto Moreno meant that he needed to be called up, and he demonstrated his talent well and showed good energy.
Jordan Henderson continues to improve, and if he can come up with more defence-splitting passes like he did yesterday, and throw in a few more goals, his transformation will be complete. You just cannot knock this boy’s attitude and determination. His confidence has also skyrocketed with knowing he now has the fans on his side appreciating all the hard work he does that often goes unacknowledged.
Likewise, Raheem Sterling also demonstrated the great strides he has taken in the two years of Brendan Rodgers’ reign. When he first broke into the team at the start of the 2012-13 season, you could see the potential was there. But my worry was that he would go the way of other, similar players such as Aaron Lennon, and become a player who is far too reliant on just raw pace. Watching Sterling yesterday, it’s clear I needn’t have worried. He has developed into a fantastic footballer, and keeps on making the necessary improvements to move up yet another level. If this year, Raheem can continue to produce the kind of finishing he has shown in pre-season and against Southampton, then the rest of the world may soon share our manager’s view that we have the best young player in Europe.
Yesterday’s game didn’t go quite as well for a couple of players, and Glen Johnson was the standout man who looked like he just doesn’t fit in to our side anymore. Left back may not be his preferred position, but he has played there plenty of times before and done well. Against Southampton though, he struggled at almost everything; inviting pressure by constantly turning onto his right foot, yet then feeling the need to shoot from distance with his left foot and wasting good possession by blazing it way over the bar. He then repeated that a few minutes later with his right foot.
He was far from his best last season, but with Jose Enrique and Martin Kelly injured for long periods, and Aly Cissokho failing to impress, we couldn’t afford to be picky about it. On current form, both Javier Manquillo and Jon Flanagan should be ahead of him in the pecking order on the right side, while Enrique and Alberto Moreno look set to compete for the left back slot. That either leaves Johnson as a very costly backup, or on the ‘for sale’ list.
Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard again showed that they don’t make the best of midfield partnerships. It was a strange move from Brendan Rodgers to deviate from last season’s successful formula of Gerrard sitting deep on his own with two energetic midfielders in front of him, especially with both Joe Allen and Emre Can on the bench who would have given that option.
Gerrard at least instigated a few attacks with long passes, but it was difficult to see exactly what Lucas was offering. It’s sad to see how the Brazilian has regressed since his injury problems, but he just hasn’t been able to return to the heights he reached before his unfortunate set-back. His immobility caused us a few problems yesterday, but that is also the case with Gerrard, which is why we developed the system last season for him where less movement was necessary. There’s no reason why Lucas cannot stay and play that role when the skipper, who will need to be managed carefully this season, needs a rest or is unavailable. But I don’t think they both should be playing together unless the squad is really stripped down to its bare bones.
It may not have been the start we’d been fantasising for three months building up to the season, but when you get that long to dream you begin to convince yourself that a nice 4-0 win will be plain sailing on that long-awaited opening day. What we did get, was three points and a good platform to set us up for the season ahead, starting with two tricky upcoming away ties. When players return from injury, and new signings get settled in, the performances will come. As long as we keep picking up the points in the meantime, there’ll be no complaints from me.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)