Liverpool take on Manchester United in the Premier League right after the international break. It’s a game that is perhaps coming a little too soon for the Reds for whom, after a good start to the season, things have started looking bleak again.
Two unconvincing wins and a convincing draw against Arsenal — which could easily have been a win — was followed by a disastrous performance against West Ham at home. A 0-3 loss has made the mood depressing for the Kop faithful once again. It’s not a knee-jerk reaction to the loss of points but perhaps just the inevitable feeling that nothing has changed at all for the team, despite yet another busy and expensive summer.
Liverpool have failed to address the goalscoring problem since Luis Suarez departed for Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge’s Anfield career was temporarily (though it seems a little too permanent for the fans’ liking) halted by recurring injuries and fitness issues. Spending £32.5m on one striker would certainly make one think that that player is the solution to the biggest issue Liverpool have faced recently.
Benteke has to get 20 goals and above for his price tag to be vindicated. The player has got off the mark, but has not looked extremely effective in all the games. To be fair to him, it’s not been completely his shortcoming. There has been a dearth of creativity behind him in most games and Liverpool have as an attack, looked extremely lacklustre and humdrum. The Belgian in fact, has won over supporters with his impressive performances and has ensured his “one trick pony” tag has begin to fade. But the best way to impress the skeptics is goals and so far, he has one in four games which really isn’t an impressive feat for a £32.5m striker.
The initial signs indicate that Philippe Coutinho and Benteke have struck a surprising, but effective partnership. The Brazilian has linked up well with the former Aston Villa man, weaving threatening looking passes from him. And it’s not just a one-sided affair. Coutinho too has benefited from Benteke’s work in retaining possession. As opposed to last season, he can now attack the box more when the ball is with Benteke as the striker can do well keeping it with him and doesn’t have to quickly release it. This is one of the reasons why Liverpool fans are beginning to take a liking to their second most expensive player of all time.
However, with Coutinho out against Manchester United, Liverpool no longer have the option of using this partnership and chemistry to their immediate advantage. Brendan Rodgers must look for a Plan B.
Against West Ham, Brendan Rodgers introduced Danny Ings after the hour mark and the former Burnley player livened up Liverpool’s attack and also freed up Benteke who couldn’t attack the final third too much. Ings’ brief chemistry with the big Belgian showed encouraging signs.
Perhaps one way for Liverpool to inflict some damage on their arch-rivals would be to play with two strikers. Rodgers could use the 4-3-3 formation with Ings on one wing, drifting in during attacks (something Sturridge did a lot of in the successful 13/14 season) or use him more up-front with Roberto Firmino sitting behind the two in a 4-4-2 formation. Either way, this is a game where another striker should and can be used as Benteke has looked far too isolated far too many times this season.
Liverpool might want to sit back in this game, and only hit Manchester United on the counter-attack. However, if the visitors want to take something out of the game, they would need to be positive in their approach and look for three points from the first whistle.
As much as Rodgers is criticised by the Liverpool fans, his decision to switch formations to 3-4-2-1 with Sterling as a false nine might have brought a 0-3 loss at Old Trafford, but it paved the way for Liverpool’s 13 match unbeaten run in the league. Rodgers must forget the West Ham loss and try something different and new to bring the best out of his team. His job may soon be on the line and a win or a performance like the first half against Arsenal will certainly soothe aching hearts and buy him more time to prove that the club owners were right in giving him another season.