Wednesday 13 November 2019

New boys wait in wings as Liverpool plan for long road

Liverpool's Danny Ings
Liverpool's Danny Ings

Paul Wilson

Liverpool's win at Stoke last weekend has put them in a good position as they prepare for their first home game of the season against newly-promoted Bournemouth tomorrow night.

With Arsenal and Chelsea both having slipped up at home already, a win could open up a gap in confidence as well as points. "It is important for us to make sure our home form is second to none," the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.

"Building confidence early on is vital, we need to get the old vibrancy round the stadium again and starting off with a win would obviously help. Home form is crucial if you want to succeed, our aim and intention in every game at Anfield is to dominate. We trained at the stadium on Friday night, just to give the new players a chance to get used to the place."

Some of those new players, such as Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino, may have to wait for a chance to break into the starting line-up, along with acquisitions from last season like Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic.

Liverpool may not have won any beauty contests at Stoke, but they returned from a difficult venue with three points and a clean sheet and Rodgers is not about to make too many changes to a winning side.

"Between now and the international break we only have one game a week so, as long as the team is winning, it is unlikely to be altered too much," he said.

"After the break, the games will come thick and fast and that is when we will need more players to cope. Everyone understands that. It is quite hard to leave talented players out of the side, especially young players who are perhaps finding themselves sidelined for the first time in their careers. But it is a long season and a tough season. There will be a time when they are needed and then it is about being ready to seize the opportunity and keep yourself in the team. That is how top level football works, and every player has to accept it."

Perhaps the most important area in which to maintain continuity is the defence, where positional errors or lapses in communication tend to be punished. Rodgers was pleased with his back four and goalkeeper last week and is likely to stick with the same personnel, which not only means another outing for the improved Dejan Lovren but a second appearance at left-back for Joe Gomez. Nathaniel Clyne was Liverpool's headline capture at full-back this summer, though the less trumpeted arrival from Charlton Athletic shows at least as much promise.

"We are still in the process of assessing him to be honest," Rodgers admitted. "He is still only 18 and it was a case of bringing him in to see if he needs to go out on loan or to stay here but, very quickly, he has shown he can stay here. For a young player, it is difficult to think of a harder place to go to make your Premier League debut. Away to Stoke and having to mark Jon Walters. That is not easy, Walters is always a handful, in fact I sought him out after the game and thanked him for giving my full-back such a thorough examination. But Joe coped really well. As soon as I met him I was struck by his maturity. He could have left Charlton at an earlier stage but wanted to stay on until he was sure he was ready for the next step. He chose Liverpool as his best opportunity to develop and, at the moment, he is enjoying it."

Liverpool have done most of their summer business, though Rodgers, who believes the transfer window should not remain open once the season has started, is sure there will be players moving out before the end of the month. Mario Balotelli, for one, appears unlikely to figure in Rodgers' plans now that Christian Benteke and Ings have been brought in as strikers, though the Italian's career is on such a plainly downward trajectory it may take some time to find a club willing to take the risk.

While there were suggestions after the opening fixture that Liverpool have altered their style a little to suit Benteke, playing a more direct game with more crosses, Rodgers downplays the idea of any major transformation: "You want a little unpredictability in your game. There's nothing wrong with trying to find different solutions. I've a way of working that won't change much, but I'm not dogmatic in my approach. We have brought in some good players who can give us variety."


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