Brendan Rodgers was destined to eat his own words in the latest chapter of the thoroughly entertaining sitcom known as ‘Liverpool FC’. The club had mercilessly clawed their way to within touching distance of fourth place, but the moment Merseyside’s new messiah hinted at the possibility of a top-two finish, an upset seemed inevitable.
Last Saturday the Reds welcomed a struggling Aston Villa side, boasting a record that had seen them concede just once in five home games. The fixture’s foreword pointed towards a comfortable victory, but despite another domineering performance in the stats department, Rodgers saw his team carved open by the ruthless Christian Benteke.
The new arrival at Villa Park struck twice, either side of an inspired assist for strike partner Andreas Weimann and spent large portions of the match terrorising the usually imperious Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger. Alan Shearer hailed his display as the ‘most complete performance from a centre-forward this season’, and for once it’s difficult to disagree. His presentation of brute strength coupled with youthful exuberance highlighted the exact brand of player Liverpool are currently lacking in their squad.
The club’s attacking options have been the subject of much criticism, following Fabio Borini’s long-term injury and Andy Carroll’s promising – if hardly prolific – spell at West Ham. At Swansea, Rodgers was able to call upon the cumbersome presence of Danny Graham but he has been found wanting this season, when centre-backs have suffocated the clinical attributes of Luis Suarez.
Perhaps this is why recent transfer gossip columns have linked Rodgers with a move for Anzhi Makhachkala’s 6″ 8 powerhouse Lacina Toure, as a means of overcompensating for a deep-rooted problem. The positive impact and disruption that Skrtel and Agger cause during offensive set-pieces have surely provided enough evidence to persuade Rodgers to seek a similar entity up front.
Liverpool have also been linked with Villa’s out-of-favour front man Darren Bent, which would have been understandable under Kenny Dalglish but not Rodgers, considering he shares the same playing philosophy as Paul Lambert. I have witnessed many people claim Liverpool just need ‘someone to stick it in’, and while this might be fundamentally true, the status of the club means they require so much more.
While the Anfield faithful may be one of the most supportive and vocal collections of fans in the Premier League, the pressure that comes with playing for Liverpool is perhaps unrivalled in English football. A host of great names have failed under the piercing eye of the Kop, but conversely the hard-working, tenacious types like Dirk Kuyt and Lucas have succeeded because their mentality matches their ability.
At this crucial point in the season, Rodgers will be well aware of the weaknesses in his squad, having fully submerged himself in the club since taking over in the summer. Fans will be hoping his scouting network boasts the same meticulous planning as his training sessions and that work towards January’s acquisitions would have started in the aftermath of a disappointing transfer deadline day.
Reports linking the club with a move for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar are perhaps rather futile, despite the Dutchman meeting the criteria outlined in this article. Liverpool’s present league position and inability to offer Champions League football makes the former ‘Culture Capital of Europe’ a far less attractive option. The transfer budget will be also uncomfortably tight, perhaps to an extent that will make it impossible to attract any household names at all.
Therefore, the club could do worse than fly under the radar like Paul Lambert. Benteke notched up 19 goals in 37 games during his only season with Genk and was on the cusp of the Belgium national squad, but his reputation in mainstream circles was relatively minute. Likewise, how many people had heard of Michu despite his 15 goals in La Liga last year?
Benteke’s eight goals in 17 appearances is hardly earth-shattering but he has also fashioned six assists, highlighting his ability to bring out the best of those around him. These are the types of statistics Rodgers needs to concentrate on, because it’s no good keeping the ball unless it ends up in the back of the net.