Christian Benteke’s impressive Anfield debut emerged as the main positive from Liverpool’s victory against Bournemouth on Monday night.
The Belgian responded positively to early fears that he would be unable to fit Liverpool’s passing style by showing some neat touches and intricate link up play with Philippe Coutinho. Brendan Rodgers’ new number nine was dominant in the air, as expected, however he developed this by making some accurate layoffs into the path of his midfielders following several lofted passes into him.
He made his presence felt amongst the Bournemouth defence all night and succeeded in reassuring Liverpool fans that he is prepared to press the opposition and work hard from the front. His movement was excellent throughout and benefited the vision of Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, who were often able to play lofted through balls into the path of a well-timed runs from their new teammate. Likewise, the £32.5 million man proved he could work well in the 4-2-3-1 system by working the channels and bringing the likes of Adam Lallana, Jordan Ibe and Coutinho into play.
As simple a piece of movement it was, his reaction to Jordan Henderson’s cross that resulted in him scoring was a promising sight for manager Brendan Rodgers and owner John W Henry. With a lack of goals being a main problem last season, Benteke’s notable desire to get into goal scoring areas has set the tone for a successful first season in the red shirt of Liverpool.
It is important he plays in a manner that allows others to disregard the belief that he is simply a rigid, aerial presence; he has to continue giving his team mates an option in behind the opposition defence while he must also strive to bring those around him into play and, most importantly, ensure he occupies areas in and around the penalty area where he can finish off attacks.
Liverpool’s overall team performance demonstrated what is required to make Benteke valuable to the side. Though it was far from the finished article, there was a promising variation to their play; the midfielders were clever in their approach at times by keeping possession in order to dictate the speed of the game while allowing for Ibe, Lallana and Coutinho to play freely by looking to both unlock the Bournemouth defence with through balls as well as looking to put early crosses towards Benteke, when given the chance.
The key to the striker fitting in is Brendan Rodgers alternating the team’s style of play and challenging the opposition in different ways, whether it be in the air or on the floor. As the season progresses, Liverpool’s number nine will become more compatible with and understood by the players around him.
While Benteke stole the spotlight, Nathaniel Clynne’s home debut also deserves a huge amount of praise. Finally, the club has made a solid signing that can act as a long term member of the starting lineup. Clynne introduced himself to the Anfield crowd well by contributing to attacks and looking extremely reliable in defence.
For a new signing, he looked settled and tactically aware in terms of the way he strived to work the channels with Lallana and Coutinho as well as working hard to get into crossing positions in order to benefit Benteke.
Understandably, he played safe throughout and took few risks however this worked for him; he was quick across the ground and intelligent in his approach, refusing to foolishly jump into challenges by standing his ground and choosing the right moment to step in. A perfect replacement for Glen Johnson.
Joe Gomez again looked strong at left back and staked a claim for a consistent run in the first team having initially been brought in as one for the future. The former Charlton Athletic youngster played confidently and, like Clynne, looked aware of what was expected.
He showed great maturity to diffuse any rise in tempo that Bournemouth attempted to achieve, by looking to spread the ball across the back four while also remaining keen to find his midfielders. Despite his lack of inexperience, he had enough self-belief to work with Jordan Ibe in attack and leave his defensive position before quickly getting back into shape when needed.
Yes he played several misplaced passes and made a few questionable clearances but he is young and it is best he gets them out the way now and learns from them, as he appeared to do. He proved he could be a Brendan Rodgers style of defender by playing out from the back and giving the ball to Benteke’s feet. A promising future, for sure.
Gomez was quick to close down each attacker that confronted him and was always tight to his man, working hard to give his man no time and space and showing a great commitment to the cause. His determination to be successful could prove to be an important asset to Liverpool’s chances this year. He faces his first real test next week as he comes up against Alexis Sanchez and Arsenal. Good luck.
Alberto Moreno’s cameo role was something of an eye opener for some Liverpool fans with the Spaniard giving his side a real attacking threat at left midfield when he came on late in the second half. A bursting run from the half way line that ended with him winning a free kick on the edge of the box reminded fans and probably Brendan Rodgers of just how quick he is.
With Gomez looking a good suit at left back, the potential is there for Moreno to develop his game and push for a more attacking position. If he were to add an improved final product to his game, he could give his side greater strength in depth and challenge Jordan Ibe on the left wing; his pace could make him an option for Coutinho and Henderson to aim for in behind the opposition back line.
It doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Liverpool fans, but Emre Can’s shift at central midfield acts as another positive from Monday’s game. The German made bursting runs from midfield that showed he could be vital in giving his side some respite after pressure from the opposition by using his power and energy to stride forward with the ball.
At such an early stage in the season, we haven’t seen the best from him yet however early signs suggest he is keen to play the right way. His ability on the ball in the centre of the park and his power will help add stability and balance to the side. Fans love him and I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the main man at Anfield in the near future.
If they are to challenge for a top four finish, Liverpool have to improve but there are early signs that things are falling into place.