If ever there was a case for the result of an individual match being more important than the performance, look no further than Liverpool’s trip to Stoke City on the opening weekend of the Premier League. It was here that Brendan Rodgers’ side were roundly humiliated and dismantled by Mark Hughes’ team on the final day of the last league campaign, so to leave The Potteries with a hard-fought 1-0 victory and all three points to boot was a fantastic reward. While Liverpool’s biggest summer addition; Christian Benteke, may not have stolen the limelight with a display of fabulous strength and skill, his importance to The Reds on the whole should not be overlooked, either during this game in particular or the season ahead. I believe that soon enough, the bruising Belgian will cement himself as a key player for Brendan Rodgers, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet in the most high pressure matches.
If we are to look first at the recent game against Stoke City and contrast it against the 6-1 destruction in Steven Gerrard’s final appearance for the club, there is one glaring difference in my opinion which changed the fortunes of the match. Back in May, Liverpool arrived without a recognised striker and still had desires on dominating proceedings against a side who are nowadays both physically strong and also with some technically gifted players. Whilst there were clearly other forces at play too; namely some pathetic defending in the defeat and some slightly under-par displays by Stoke players in the more recent game, the presence of Christian Benteke up front was a huge help towards Liverpool’s cause.
Using his hulking frame to make the defenders’ lives a misery and forever giving them several problems to think about, he was an out-ball for the likes of Skrtel and Lovren all game. In a more precise sense too, Coutinho, Lallana and Ibe were always willing to feed Benteke as early as possible either from the flanks or through the middle. Having this option available caused Liverpool to play with a significantly greater level of unpredictability which made their attacks more potent. Of course, this was just a preview of the former Aston Villa striker’s Liverpool career and as understanding continues to build with his team-mates, I expect the currently subtle differences to become much more noticeable.
Now that Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers have been handed the good news of an imminent return to first-team action for Daniel Sturridge, it has become a pressing matter to consider the possible permutations of both the Englishman and Benteke functioning in the same line-up. It is a fantastically encouraging headache to have for Rodgers and his coaching staff, as the two frontmen offer so much to the side when fit and firing.
Apart from the occasional exception to the rule; Sturridge and Suarez were in fact one of these, it often takes a good few weeks together for strikers to develop a fruitful relationship on the pitch. The knowledge of each other’s tendencies when on the ball and the kind of runs they are likely to make will translate into an extremely dangerous partnership. With both possessing outstanding natural ability at a wide variety of the game’s subtleties, this is always a beneficial place to begin.
Simply by observing the two players, you can clearly see that Benteke will be more potent when crosses come into the box and acting as a lynchpin for the rest of the team to operate around. In contrast, Sturridge enjoys taking advantage of his fabulous acceleration and fast feet, stretching the opposition in behind and down the channels. While the Belgian is certainly not slow, he is no match to the former Manchester City striker when in full flight. As a result of this, the two forwards will hopefully not disturb each other’s natural rhythm too much on the field and instead, are able to benefit from the opposing characteristics. Both of them can come short towards the midfield or play on the shoulder of the last man but with different objectives in mind. The idea of a fully flourishing partnership between these two forwards is an exciting one for any Liverpool fan and a terrifying one for the rest of the Premier League.
It is my belief that Christian Benteke’s presence at Anfield will prove to be beneficial for Sturridge even when the two of them are not gracing the field of play at the same time. Firstly, the existence of another top-class striker will encourage Liverpool’s number 15 to continually push to improve in training, well aware that if he does not, it could be a while before he finds himself firmly in the first team picture. Furthermore, Benteke will undoubtedly score several goals over the coming months and years in Liverpool Red which in turn, takes the pressure off Sturridge’s shoulders. While he obviously does possess a deep-rooted injury problem, I believe that feeling as though he had to be scoring at an almost inhumane rate week after week will have taken its toll on his body. Now he has the confidence to rely on Benteke, perhaps allowing the signing from Chelsea to relax and express himself on the pitch.
Last season in particular, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers almost always found it impossible to play with two strikers. This is primarily due to the lack of numbers and indeed the quality of those within the squad, but that is no longer the case. Christian Benteke has all the attributes to lead the line by himself but I can also see him flourishing with another forward in close proximity. Pairings with both Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings have the potential to function well due to the contrasting skills and abilities. While this is not necessarily the case for a partnership comprising of Divock Origi and Benteke; both possessing similar styles and attributes, the Belgian connection could well give the combination a head-start. In this way, the acquisition of Christian Benteke over the summer has opened the doors to tactical flexibility in the forward line like no other in recent times.
Brendan Rodgers may have splashed out the ground-breaking figure of £32.5 million on Christian Benteke this summer, but rather than be the transfer that would eventually spell his downfall; as a few have commented so far, I believe that the Belgian has the capability of transforming Liverpool’s manager back to legendary status amongst the fans. Great faith has already been demonstrated by the owners by backing Rodgers to the hilt in the transfer market. In my opinion, he has bought better than ever before this time around and the acquisition of Christian Benteke is the epitome of this. With the motivation to prove himself on the big stage and with some exceptional players around him, it is not impossible for Benteke to reach the levels hit by Fernando Torres and become the latest darling of the Kop.[interaction id=”55bca702971608850754e8dd”] [separator type=”thin”]
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Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
Have West Ham United found the next Mark Noble in Alfie Lewis?
The 18-year-old put in a fine performance against Dagenham and Redbridge this week.
West Ham United took on Dagenham and Redbridge in a friendly yesterday, in a match to raise funds for the National League side.
It was no surprise to see West Ham come out victorious. They won 3-1, with Michail Antonio at the double and Jordan Hugill scoring his first goal for the club.
It was, however, a Hammers team depleted by international selection.
With that in mind, David Moyes’ side fielded some of their younger players. Plenty of them caught the eye, but none more so than central midfielder Alfie Lewis.
The 18-year-old put in a fine display for 90 minutes which left West Ham fans very excited on social media.
It was an even more special achievement given Lewis spent most of last year on the sidelines with a serious knee injury.
Lewis himself told the official West Ham website after the game: “I’m delighted.
“It was a good experience for me tonight, to play with the likes of Patrice Evra, and Mark Noble in midfield. It was a good challenge and a good test for us as well, and I think I did well.”
He spoke of it being an honour playing alongside Mark Noble, but is he the successor to the throne?
Whilst Noble has had his critics in recent times there is no doubt he has been a long-term hero at West Ham.
Fans of the club have often wondered why Noble has never received England recognition given his consistent form in the Premier League.
Noble has gone on to play over 400 games for West Ham since his debut for the club back in 2004.
Lewis certainly has the ability to follow in his footsteps. An energetic midfield creator, West Ham look to have another midfield gem in their ranks and one that can hopefully progress into the first-team soon.
The Hammers have a fine record of bringing through young players.
Noble is one current example and Lewis could not be at a better club if he is to find his way into the West Ham first-team.
This season, with a relegation battle raging, might come a little too soon for the teenager.
Nonetheless, in 2018-19 it will not be a surprise if Lewis finds himself playing alongside Noble in the West Ham midfield once again.
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