Welcome to Anfield Fabio Borini. Brendan Rodgers’ first signing as Liverpool manager returned the favor by opening his account with an impressive first half volley. The goal came en route to an impressive 3-0 victory for the Reds, 4-0 on aggregate. Steven Gerrard scored the second, followed by a wonder strike from Glen Johnson late in proceedings.
Luis Suarez turned in an inspired performance in his first match back from Olympic duty. Substitutes on the night included Charlie Adam, Jaime Carragher and Jay Spearing. Swansea’s Joe Allen also made an appearance in the stands—seeming to signal an end to the protracted transfer saga.
The Liverpool Word asked five of its writers (Michael Kline, Tony Lucadamo, Dave Hendrick, and Karl Matchett) their opinions on the game, the players and the overall approach of Liverpool after the game.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Reina; Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Shelvey, Gerrard; Downing, Borini, Suarez.
TLW - What changes did you see from the team which took the field in the first leg?
Tony - The most obvious change came from the inclusion of Luis Suarez. His contract renewal may turn out to be the signing of the offseason for FSG. His ability to constantly create chances put Gomel on the back foot from the start. There appears to be the makings of an intrinsic understanding between the Suarez, Borini and Gerrard which is a good sign for the future. It was nice to see the attack regain its teeth.
Karl - Much, much better pressing right from the kick off. I was hugely impressed with the movement of the front three plus Gerrard; although it was partly attributable to the massive amounts of space given to them by the Gomel defenders I thought that the front four worked really hard and used both the ball and the space exceptionally well. Also the ball possession was far better than in the first leg both individually and from the team in general.
Michael - Besides the obvious squad changes, there was a distinct improvement in both passing and creativity. Suarez, Borini, Gerrard and Downing were all receiving the ball in space and were doing really well to link-up together. With Lucas sitting deep and playing aggressively on the defensive side of things, Gerrard was able to drift forward in that all too familiar role he occupies so well. The defence also received a big boost with the addition of Daniel Agger to the back, and both Skrtel and Enrique seemed to have dusted off the majority of the cobwebs.
Dave - Everything was vastly improved. It started at the back and it started with Agger. His presence settled Skrtel and Enrique and both turned in excellent displays. He also helped create an extra man in midfield which helped Liverpool keep possession a lot better than they did last week. The extra possession allowed the fullbacks to push on which created overloads on both flanks and Gomel simply didn’t know how to defend against it. The front four were excellent but Suarez stole the show. His inclusion was a great move from Rodgers. The movement Suarez displayed blended perfectly with that of Borini, Gerrard and Downing and created countless openings for the Reds.
TLW – This was our first look at a possible first 11 for the new season. What did you think and what changes would you have made (if any)?
Karl - I think it was our strongest available XI, with the possible exceptions of Henderson for Shelvey and Carroll for Downing. The other 9 you’d pick every day, which is fine, but perhaps also highlights the lack of quality depth in the squad. For this particular game, it was exactly the team I expected and wanted to see.
Michael - I thought the starting lineup fielded by Brendan Rodgers today against Gomel was very strong. Aside from Shelvey, I look for the rest to make-up the regular first team.
Dave - In terms of the players Liverpool currently own, I would class that as 10/11′s of the strongest team available with the only exception being Shelvey. For me, Henderson is a better player right now and a better fit in Rodgers system. With Allen set to arrive over the weekend that position becomes his. Unless there’s another attacker signed to take Downing’s spot, last night’s 11 with Allen in for Shelvey is the team that should play in my opinion.
Tony – I think that Rodgers made the right choices given the personnel choices at his disposal. Shelvey was the surprise inclusion, but I think he earned that spot with his play this summer. Jordan Henderson has to be the most disappointed at his lack of minutes. If anything, I think the inclusion revealed a need to make a few more adjustments in the transfer window.
TLW - Which players impressed and which disappointed on the night?
Michael - I was extremely impressed with both Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard. Luis Suarez was causing complete havoc and I haven’t seen Gerrard that lively in a very long time. They both look fully fit and ready to play. Lucas, the defence, Fabio Borini and Stewart Downing all had excellent matches as well. The passing was the best it has been in a while and they looked comfortable on the ball. I really don’t thing anyone disappointed per se, but I do think Jonjo Shelvey is still just a bit too raw to crack the starting lineup.
Dave - Those who impressed me most were Suarez and Agger who I feel are Liverpool’s two best and most important players, followed by Gerrard and Lucas. All four had big games last night and Liverpool are going to need them to have many more over the course of the season if they want to be in the running for a Champions League spot. Shelvey disappointed me last night. He was the only one that didn’t look like he belonged in the team. Thankfully he’s young and has plenty of time to learn his craft properly rather than just being over-reliant on his natural ability. I think a season long loan is best for all player and club.
Tony - Suarez was the clear man of the match. Agger also looked great taking on his new multi-faceted responsibilities in the back. Gerrard also bears recognition for some tremendous linking play in the final third. Enrique and Downing stood out to me as the most anonymous on the evening. We probably need to add depth at both those positions to give them some competition for time.
Karl - I think most of them impressed. Suarez was absolutely unbelievable, looked like he had a dozen matches behind him already, all he missed was a goal. The link up between himself and Gerrard was very impressive, and Borini and Downing were in there too. Shelvey didn’t have his best game, which I was a little pleased with actually—might show him how far he has to go. The lad has immense talent and I think over the course of the season he can force his way into the XI on a regular basis, but he has to recognise he needs to concentrate every time he gets the ball. Agger, Lucas and Johnson were all very good too.
TLW – Looking forward to West Brom, which areas were in biggest need of improvement?
Dave - Minor tweaks and alterations can improve things further, Allen will be a big help in midfield and as Suarez and Borini play together more often we’ll see their understanding continue to improve. Defensively there’s still a bit of work to be done in terms of the fullbacks being a bit less gung-ho but that will likely happen as a matter of course.
Tony - The biggest thing at this point is just giving the first team more time to gel as a team. They are undertaking a tactical rethink with a shortened summer to put it together. Further, the grueling early Premier League calendar makes that point all the more clear. Hopefully, the Leverkusen match will provide a second opportunity to do so.
Karl - We won’t get as much space to play in against West Brom so the passing tempo and accuracy will still have to improve further. Clinical finishing will hopefully come as a result of increased quality chances—which in itself will come as the team gets more accustomed to playing in their new system. The bench could still do with improving before then too…
Michael - The obvious improvements need to be made: passing and movement. Aside from that, the squad really just needs to learn to play together. They are learning a new system, and a temporary learning curve is completely understandable. We saw today how much they improved just with the addition of other quality players
TLW – The cameras caught Joe Allen in the stands. With that deal seemingly all but finalized, what impact do you think the Swansea man can have on the team?
Tony - Allen will seemingly provide immediate competition for the holding spot while adding depth behind Lucas as well. The Welshman played a more defensive role in the Olympics. He needs to show off more dynamic attacking ability if he wants to best Shelvey, Henderson and Adam for that final starting place.
Karl - The aforementioned point, the quality in depth to the team, is a big point. Allen will allow Liverpool to play this two deep midfielders version of the 4-3-3 as well as the more accepted 1-behind-2 version. He will be expected to aid our ball retention too of course, and hopefully the creativity in the final third will get a boost too and the Reds won’t be relying on Gerrard too often to make things happen.
Michael - I think Joe Allen will immediately slot right into the squad like a puzzle piece. He is capable of fulfilling the most important role in Brendan Rodgers’ squad, and the only one we don’t have an in-house answer for.
Dave - The Allen to Liverpool talk started when Dalglish was still in charge and initially I wasn’t overly keen because I believed him to be a similar type of player to Henderson. When Rodgers took over I started watching Swansea City matches from last season to get a better idea of what to expect stylistically from Liverpool as his influence on the squad grows and I was constantly having to stop and rewind to watch Allen over and over again. I have now watched every Swansea match from last season, and thus have seen every Premier League appearance from Joe Allen.
He’s a much better player than I, or many others, gave him credit for and he’s key to this style of play. Not just his passing ability and ability to link the play while moving at speed towards the oppositions goal, but his defensive play is excellent as well. Many people look at Leon Britton and wonder why he doesn’t make a large number of tackles, the reason is Allen. Allen was the key to Swansea’s high pressure defense last season and caused opposition teams to lose the ball in their own half a ridiculous amount of times per game last season. Allen will improve this Liverpool in numerous ways and I’m extremely happy by the signing, Even if the price is a couple of million higher than I would have liked us to pay, I think all Liverpool fans will be looking at this deal in 12 months and agreeing that it was money well spent.