By David Lynch
With so much of the pre-game hype focusing on the future of Daniel Agger and the potential arrival of Joe Allen, it was almost inevitable that the performances of note for Liverpool against FC Gomel would come from positions neither occupy.
The Reds strolled to a 3-0 victory against the Belarusian side on Thursday night at Anfield, with Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini and Steven Gerrard rightly receiving the lion’s share of the plaudits ahead of the Dane and his colleagues in central midfield.
The Italian’s showing in particular will have given the Kop hope ahead of the new season, as he opened the scoring and meshed encouragingly with the Reds’ other forward options.
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Next to him, Suarez showed no ill effects from what was a disappointing Olympic campaign with Uruguay and put forward a convincing argument that he might have received a gold medal had ‘nutmegging an opponent’ been an event.
The 25-year-old showed every bit of the trickery and, as Rodgers later termed it, imagination, which convinced the Reds to renew his contract earlier this week. And, though they may not all count as assists, Suarez was the last Liverpool player to touch the ball prior to all three goalscorers netting - clear evidence of the space he unselfishly provides others.
Meanwhile, Gerrard gave a performance typical of so much of his time at Anfield, so mundane in its brilliancy given his consistency over time. The 31-year-old broke into the space behind the Gomel midfield with startling regularity and allowed the men ahead of him to move off before, without fail, finding them. He was also unfortunate not to come away with two goals after hitting the post following his tap-in from a Suarez cross.
After the match Brendan Rodgers praised the chemistry amongst his forward line, but that this triumvirate is in its infancy as a unit will be the factor which most pleases the Northern Irishman. In fact, Rodgers should be delighted that it was clearly his system - which he later insisted should always be the real star of the show - which brought so much from the players.
Suarez in particular seemed to thrive on the defined role he was denied in Kenny Dalglish’s occasionally aimless attacking philosophy last term. The Uruguayan was not just popping up everywhere; he was doing so in the right places and with a clear remit. His talent has always been evident since his arrival on English shores but, under a proactive coach such as Rodgers, the potential to fulfil it is clear.
Gerrard is another player who seemed to embrace his ‘new’ role, as he situated himself just off the front - a position he excelled in under Rafael Benitez. Questions have regularly been raised over the Liverpool captain’s ability to fight off a succession of injuries and his advancing years to star for Rodgers, but he will flourish in a team which rests on the ball and in a set-up which delegates his defensive running to the younger legs behind him.
That several of his exchanges with Suarez were reminiscent of his fabulous partnership with Fernando Torres can also only bode well for the future, even should it prove only half as effective.
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Of course Borini has no previous at Anfield and therefore Rodgers’ effect on his deployment is more difficult to judge. However, the former Swansea boss made the Italian his first signing last month and, on the evidence of Thursday night, he has pulled off something of a masterstroke.
The manner in which Borini and Suarez rotated between coming from wide and central was not indicative of two players who have trained together for just a week such was its almost telepathic nature. Borini is just 21 but seems to possess an intelligence which exceeds his relative naivety in top-level football and the fact that good players often take little time to click with others of that calibre hints that this may be the tip of the iceberg.
Undeniably, Thursday’s performance was framed by the rather important caveat of “it’s only Gomel”, and the Reds have a long way to go before they are the embodiment of Rodgers’ philosophy. Yet, with Allen sat in the stands watching and, according to Rodgers, his arrival “imminent”, Liverpool’s jigsaw appears to be finally coming together.
The Welsh midfielder would surely have been licking his lips at linking up with a forward line which is so full of movement, and it appears he may get the chance to do so as early as Sunday’s friendly game against Bayer Leverkusen should negotiations conclude in the next 24 hours as expected.
Stewart Downing’s ponderous performance may well indicate that, alongside Allen, the Reds still have one more transfer to complete as a priority. However, Borini’s first impressions will certainly have earned the crowd’s faith that Rodgers will get it right on both counts.
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