By Ernie Fox
There is so much to comment on from this week’s events; Liverpool seem to have finally made a move in the ongoing Benteke saga, so far we’ve seen two victories from two in the current pre season tour and Steven Gerrard made his goal scoring MLS debut for LA Galaxy – which needs no further explanation other than the fact I’m ecstatic for our former captain and club legend.
First of all friendlies, two wins from two can’t be all that bad, but as we all know you can’t read too much into friendlies; it’s very early days, the squad are still getting to know each other and returning to match fitness. More importantly, the opposition are hardly of a quality that could really be matched to what we will be facing next season, but what can be ascertained is that we have a squad of maturing young talent.
So far the likes of Ibe, Markovic, Gomez and Teixeira have shone in the friendlies showing that perhaps this season one or more may stake a serious claim for a regular first team place. It’s an exciting prospect to see young talent progressing in such a way, and hopefully will remain at Anfield long enough for us to celebrate the finished article.
That leads us nicely on to the week’s big story, or is it the summer’s main headline? Liverpool are apparently set to pay out a huge sum on Christian Benteke from Aston Villa. Personally, until Benteke has actually signed on the dotted line, I remain apprehensive about his situation. Sometimes transfer business in football seems to get held up for so many reasons it becomes part of the game, but on other occasions there are more sinister goings on behind the scenes. Sadly, I have no insider knowledge at the club other than what I see released by the various tabloids and news outlets, but something tells me from the protracted nature of this transfer so far, there may yet be one final twist to this tale.
Assuming all goes ahead, and Benteke does join the Reds, it can’t be denied that this transfer is one that has severely split Liverpool fans; probably as much as the question of whether Rodgers should remain as manager. Will Benteke fit into the system? Is he worth the 32.5 million? Apparently, Rodgers believes so, but it is a gamble that will in one way or another decide Rodgers’ future at the club. If Benteke succeeds, I have no doubt that combined with the rest of the quality in the side, we will have a very successful campaign; most likely finishing in the top 4 and maybe even adding a trophy to match. But, the kind of fee being forked out for Benteke as a centre forward means, if he should fail, it is highly likely that Rodgers will be gone come the summer.
For Brendan Rodgers it is likely that everything will hinge on the signing of Benteke. Another disappointing campaign will not be tolerated by the fans or FSG, certainly not when so much money has been used on one player. Personally, I’m glad they’re going through with it, I’m happy they’ve gone out and spent what was needed to get their man. I can see a lot of positives about Benteke, he is strong on the ball and often occupies more than one defender allowing space for the likes of Firmino and Coutinho, he is also very capable of scoring with his feet, he’s not just a target man.
The big question comes from whether Liverpool will service Benteke with enough crosses into the box. We put in the least amount of crosses last season, why will this season be any different? Firstly, last season, our forward line quite often featured the likes of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, great players but hardly the types you would want to throw a high cross deep into the box for. Secondly, we were poor last season, the only stat from last year we should be considering compared to this one is results, we need to improve our all round game, full stop. If we play like we did last year, we will suffer badly as a consequence, so maybe a few more crosses into the box wouldn’t go amiss if we have the right player in the middle to get onto the end of them; after all, it’s not as if we don’t have the players to provide the right kind of quality deliveries.
Through all this doubt and academic debate there comes one particular shining light I never imagined myself saying. A few months ago, when Steven Gerrard announced he would be leaving Liverpool at the end of the season, a number of names were linked with replacing our captain; one of those names was James Milner. Don’t get me wrong, I had nothing specific against the man, but to think that we would be replacing one of our greatest ever players with someone like Milner seemed laughable. I felt almost outraged that the club could think so little of Gerrard’s contribution that they would consider Milner as anything near an acceptable replacement.
Sometimes, you have to accept when you may have got something badly wrong.
Benteke may end up being the front man, the one who decides Rodgers’ fate based on his success in front of goal, but it will be Milner who actually makes that success possible. So far in our first two friendlies he has been instrumental in running the midfield alongside Henderson. He has fantastic energy, plus excellent vision and a passing ability to match; he is a very capable set piece taker which will come in handy when we look to utilise Benteke’s height and physical presence.
Everything that Liverpool produce requires a dynamic and hard working midfield partnership, if that fails we may as well sit back and just launch high hopeful balls onto the head of our (potential) new target man. Milner was a free signing, but already in the first two friendlies he has shown the type of work rate and technical ability we can expect to see from him as the season progresses, and to top it all off, he was free!
Let’s be realistic, Milner isn’t a long term replacement for Gerrard, in fact it is highly likely that Emre Can was always meant for that particular mantle, but Milner coming in and taking that short term role may well just help to maintain the side within touching distance of the leaders whilst allowing Can the time to mature into the role without the pressure of being relied on to take over from Gerrard straight away.
Marquee signings are all very well, but sometimes the thing that really makes a difference doesn’t always cost as much as you may think. That’s why I’m very much looking forward to seeing Milner in a red shirt this season, because despite all the other big name transfers across the Premier League, he may just turn out to be the best signing of the lot. If we return to the Champions League next season, I have no doubt it will be hugely down to Milner in the heart of the midfield, providing a spine for the team and a platform for our younger, more exciting players to express themselves.
Written by Ernie Fox