It may not have been that elusive first three Premier League points, but Brendan Rodgers secured his first domestic win as Liverpool boss as his young side put in an excellent performance to beat a strong West Brom team 2-1 away in the League Cup and qualify for the next round, where they’ll face Rodgers’ old side, Swansea, at Anfield. It was a record breaking night for the Reds, with Jerome Sinclair coming off the bench to become Liverpool’s youngest ever player at 16 years and 6 days of age - he wasn’t even alive for Euro 96, how old do some of you feel, eh?
As was the case with the Young Boys game last week, Rodgers made wholesale changes, putting out a completely different starting eleven from the one that started against Manchester United last weekend – the only differences were Jack Robinson starting at left-back over the injured Enrique, and Samid Yesil, a summer signing from Bayer Leverkusen, made his debut in place of Suso, who is likely to be involved against Norwich this weekend - and again the ‘second string’ showed the starting eleven how it’s done, coming from behind, away from home, to secure the win.
In what is becoming an unfortunate regular occurrence for Liverpool, the only player who failed to make any real positive impact on the game was Stewart Downing and, having fallen behind Fabio Borini, Suso, Raheem Sterling and the impressive Oussama Assaidi, the £20m man appears to be on borrowed time at Anfield. However, his performance was the only real disappointment on an otherwise excellent performance from the Reds, who are showing increasing signs that they are assimilating themselves in to Rodgers system.
Nuri Sahin is looking sharper by the game and was absolutely magnificent last night; he was at the heart of everything Liverpool did.
West Brom looked dangerous at times, with the powerful Romelu Lukaku proving to be a real handful for Jamie Carragher, but their goal came from yet another defensive error, as Brad Jones came way out of his goal to go up and collect a cross, but spilled it in to the path of Gabriel Tamas, who finished to give the Baggies an early lead. Replays show that Jones actually took a whack to the face from Jonas Olsson – who is a master of slyly ‘asserting’ himself on opposition players – and he tweeted that he has a broken nose as a result. The Australian goalkeeper was assured throughout, and Rodgers will hope that his performance will give Pepe Reina the kick up the backside he so desperately needs.
Undeterred by the early setback, the young Reds showed great purpose and determination to get back in to the game. Nuri Sahin is looking sharper by the game and was absolutely magnificent last night; he was at the heart of everything Liverpool did. He scored the equaliser when his well struck long-range shot found its way past Foster, who clearly picked up Reina’s gloves by mistake and had a shaky game. It was a somewhat fortuitous equaliser, but it was no more than Liverpool deserved – and the Reds were saving the best for the last.
The winning goal was a microcosm of how Rodgers wants his team to play. Relentless pressing high up the pitch won the ball back, and from the resulting throw in the players quickly passed the ball in little triangles around the chasing West Brom players, and rather than try and force the issue, they were patient and retained possession, with the ball going back to Sebastian Coates, who then found Suso in plenty of space in the middle of the park. The young Spaniard then took the ball forward before rolling a perfectly weighted pass in to the path of Assaidi, who crossed to Sahin, who made a great run in to the box to finish what was an exquisite passage of football. Rodgers will have been delighted by the goal: win the ball high up the pitch, be patient on the ball, wait for the opposition to make a mistake and then make that key pass to initiate the attack. Suarez, Gerrard et al could do worse than learn from the youngsters.
After the game, Rodgers spoke of his delight at the players’ “footballing arrogance”, and that is a perfect description of their performance; they have confidence in their own ability and are not afraid of responsibility.
There were so many positives: Jack Robinson was solid at left-back, and Jose Enrique is another senior member of the squad whose performances must radically improve if he wants to stay in the first-team setup; Sahin looked every bit the player he did at Dortmund, and the scary part is that he will only get better as he’s still not fully up to speed; Dani Pacheco looked much more comfortable playing in the hole rather than upfront, and if he continues to perform to this level he may yet have a future at Anfield; Samid Yesil should have scored when he missed a close range header, but the youngster was up against two experienced centre-backs in Olsson and Tamas, and showed great movement and work-rate to keep them occupied; and then there was Oussama Assaidi, who did this strange thing where he would beat a player with skill, and then cross the ball to a teammate. Assaidi also claimed an assist, and such productivity from the winger must be eradicated from his game if he is to have any chance of forging a career at Liverpool.
After the game, Rodgers spoke of his delight at the players’ “footballing arrogance”, and that is a perfect description of their performance; they have confidence in their own ability and are not afraid of responsibility. In a weird way, Liverpool’s failure to adequately strengthen their squad in the summer may turn out to be a blessing in disguise in the long-term. Players like Sterling, Robinson, Suso and Wisdom look like they have been playing in the first-team for an age, and their integration in to the senior squad provides a certain degree of depth to the squad, meaning the Reds can focus on signing a few top class players to add that extra bit of class to the first eleven, knowing the younger players are more than capable to deputise when needed.
Next up for Liverpool is an away trip to Norwich, who are also without a league win all season. With the first choice players again given the week off, there can be no excuses for not claiming their first league win of this campaign. After that, the Reds have what is, on paper, a kind run of games, so perhaps now they can really kick on and climb the table. Onwards and upwards.
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