Since Steven Gerrard’s announcement that he would be ending a 17 year association with his beloved Liverpool, there has been much concern over who could pick up the mantle. Not doing a great deal to dispel this concern, the ex-England captain scored a double in his first game after the news, sending The Reds through to the next round of the FA Cup in the process. However, a recent hamstring injury has put pay to his time on the pitch and is ironically quite possibly a result of too many minutes in successive matches. Citing this as a primary reason for his departure, several fans are now coming around to Brendan Rodgers’ way of thinking. In his absence which should continue for at least a week or two, the club’s youngsters have stepped up to the plate and demonstrated beyond doubt that; if their rate of progression continues, Liverpool are set to possess a highly talented side in a few years. Furthermore, when you look deeper still into the lower echelons of the Anfield playing staff, there is hardly a shortage of prospective first team players bubbling along below the radar.
The flying forward has stood up as a main man for this season, being forced to ply his trade for the vast majority of the campaign without his chief partner in crime; Daniel Sturridge. Having to learn the far from simple role of a centre forward while being on the job, Sterling has used his natural abilities to make the position his own. Although he does not have the classic physique for a central striker, defenders do not find it an easy task to dispossess the slight figure of Raheem Sterling. While he can hold off a stronger man, he provides more of a problem when using his pace to stretch the opposition in behind.
One of the key requirements of a side’s main striker is that he secures the goals that decide the fate of his team. As something that has never before been one of Sterling’s primary demands, it was not an instantaneous transition but something that has clearly been worked on. Several key goals have now been snatched by Sterling at vital moments in games of any magnitude. The Jamaican-born speedster has always had a good understanding with Philippe Coutinho and this has not deserted him when he has been employed further upfield.
Although I do not foresee Sterling being deployed as a central striker when Rodgers has Sturridge or perhaps an on-form Mario Balotelli as an option, but it is encouraging nonetheless. Sterling’s stint in this new-found role will certainly not hinder his or Liverpool’s success in the future, as the learning experience has been invaluable and could well help the production of a more balanced side down the road.
In a rather unexpected turn of events, Philippe Coutinho has become something of a talismanic figure for Liverpool since the turn of the year. 19 consecutive starts in the famous red shirt was a fantastic feat in itself, and an even greater one when you begin to chart the quality of his performances spanning across those games. Several times did he take the role as match-winner, especially when coming up with some vital goals in recent times against Bolton, Southampton and Manchester City; all of which were stunning strikes from over 20 yards out.
When Coutinho was finally granted a well-deserved rest after the almost relentless frequency of games in 2015, Liverpool looked bereft of ideas or invention in the attacking third. I still believe that it was the correct decision to leave him at home while the remaining fit players in the squad flew to the scene of Then Red’s dramatic European triumph in 2005. He has played so much football this season compared to any before, and at such a young age he still needs protecting.
The dazzlingly quick-witted Coutinho is the vital link man between midfield and attack for Liverpool, adding that essential guile and intelligence that makes unlocking the tightest of defences that much easier. On the kind of form he is exhibiting at the moment, the diminutive Brazilian number 10 offers something that cannot be found anywhere else in the Liverpool squad. Adding goals; and brilliant ones at that, to his already invaluable contributions has placed him at the forefront of the hopes for the Anfield faithful. That performance against Manchester City yesterday has demonstrated what he can achieve as the linchpin of this Liverpool side. At the beginning of February, Rodgers claimed that “Coutinho can emulate Luis Suarez”. A pipe dream at the time, but now who would doubt it.
After a less than blistering first few months of his Liverpool career, Emre Can has rapidly grown into a mainstay of the side. The 21 year old German powerhouse was unable to force his way into a midfield role despite struggles for the Merseysiders in this area and throughout the team more generally. It was unclear why this was the case, as what few minutes that were granted to him did provide fans with the promise of better things.
In the end, it was perhaps by luck rather than judgement that Can cemented a place in the Liverpool side. It was known from his time in Germany before the eventual £10 million transfer to The Reds that he was not averse to performing in a multitude of different positions. A rash of injuries in midfield and at the back made it a necessity for Rodgers to change to a formation with 3 centre halves. Can was deployed from the right, and he has flourished in the role.
Although he is not a completely natural defender, evidenced at times when occasionally switching off at vital moments, his physical attributes make him a natural fit for the situation. Barrel-chested and an incredibly powerful runner, Emre Can is more than capable of carrying the ball out from the back. This has become a dying art in recent times, but the German international is a fine exponent of the skill. Of course, his more natural position in midfield results in a composure on the ball that is unrivalled by most other defenders. This provides both an increased sense of security and also the option of finding a striker behind the line of defenders with an early ball out from the back.
I do not imagine that his future with Liverpool will lie in defence in the long-term, but his performances for the rest of this campaign will be vital in The Reds’ charge towards fourth place and glory in the FA Cup. Looking past the summer and life without Gerrard, a midfield pairing of Can and Henderson is something to anticipate keenly for Liverpool fans. With both constantly improving their technical aspects week on week and already exhibiting physical attributes up there with the best, Steven Gerrard may not be missed quite as much as is currently feared. What is also surprising is the immense leadership that Emre Can is already displaying, despite being a newcomer to the side and only just into his 20s. Such desire is a huge part of his personal game and his vocal presence can only translate a similar attitude to his team-mates around him.
Liverpool acquired Jordon Ibe from lower league Wycombe Wanderers while the winger was still many years away from emerging from teenage life. He always had the potential to be special, possessing the natural talent that if matched by work rate and desire, could lead him to the pinnacle of world football. Brendan Rodgers handed the exciting prospect his first start in the last game of his first campaign at the Anfield helm and ever since that point, has clearly been in the Northern Irishman’s plans for Liverpool’s future.
In what may well prove to be a crucial spell in Ibe’s career, he spent a very successful six months on loan at Derby County. Goals and assists aplenty certainly sent a message to Rodgers and despite Steve Mclaren’s desires, the number 33 returned to Anfield from Pride Park. I would be amazed if anyone could have predicted what would transpire over the following month.
The first game for Liverpool after Ibe returned to training at Melwood was the always hugely significant Merseyside derby. The speedster was thrust into the limelight with an immediate opportunity as a starter, playing as a right wing-back in Liverpool’s recently successful 3-4-2-1. As the brightest spark in the day’s proceedings for The Reds, Ibe drew a great deal of attention from the footballing public and since that display, has played a part in every match when available. Quite a feat for a 19 year old.
Onlookers have been astounded by Ibe’s direct attacking threat that he provides from the flanks, aligned with supreme skill, pace, and an incredible absence of fear. Similar to Sterling, Jordon Ibe is deceptively strong and uses this physique to his advantage. He also seems to possess a defensive understanding and maturity well beyond his years. To have the awareness to tuck in behind the centre half to guard against crosses directed to the back post is something that you generally only see experienced professionals producing with regular frequency. One only has to hope that this is not a flash in the pan and Ibe continues to surprise and perform on the highest level.
In addition to the players discussed previously who have already staked a claim for consistent first team action in the coming years, there are several more in Liverpool’s youth setup who are hardly without promise. Firstly, Sheyi Ojo is making great waves in the reserve game and has earned himself a loan move to Wigan in order to progress his long-term future at Anfield. Although he is a different sort of player to Raheem Sterling or Jordon Ibe; less direct but perhaps with a greater natural technical ability, his rise reminds me a great deal of the current Liverpool starters. Repeatedly proving to be of a higher standard than his own age group, he is performing at a level above his station at only 17 years of age and having already taken his place as an un-used substitute this year, I expect that next season will stage Ojo’s breakthrough campaign.
Furthermore, the combative and energetic midfield pair of Jordan Rossiter and Jordan Williams, lively tricksters Harry Wilson and Cameron Brannagan, and pacey forwards Jerome Sinclair and Divock Origi are waiting in the wings for their chance on the biggest stage at Anfield. While the next season or two may still be a little too early to establish their place in the side on a regular basis, I believe that they could all be superstars in the making, shining brightly in the latter half of the decade and beyond.
Do you think the future is bright for Liverpool with these youthful prospects all currently plying their trade in Merseyside Red? Who holds the key for success, or are they still a long way off challenging for the Premier League again with this current squad? Let us know in the comments section below or on twitter @TBRFootball .
After shock international call is Antonee Robinson a future Everton star
The defender has been in good form for Bolton Wanderers this season.
Bolton Wanderers have recently seen one of their players called up to international duty for the first time. Antonee Robinson has been included in the senior USA squad for the upcoming fixture against Paraguay
The left-back was born in Milton Keynes but his father is from New York state so qualifies for the USMNT. Robinson has previously played for the USA under-18 side and received a call-up to the under-20s but this is his first senior call.
For Everton fans, it will be a sign of the excellent work he has been putting in with the Championship strugglers. Robinson is on a season long loan at the Macron Stadium from Everton.
The 20-year-old has been a revelation for the Trotters, performing brilliantly and featuring in 26 league games this campaign. Despite recently losing his place to the more experienced Andrew Taylor it has been an excellent campaign for Robinson.
Everton must be keeping track of his development, especially considering that left-back is a position that they need to improve.
This season has seen Cuco Martina play out of position to fill the role. Leighton Baines is still an excellent operator, as he is shown since his return from injury. The issue however is that Baines seems to be picking up injuries on far to regular a basis for Everton’s liking.
Robinson therefore could be the answer on the long-term. There has been talk of Everton diving into the transfer market to fill the role but in the 20-year-old the Toffees have a potential long-term replacement.
Everton have a long history of bringing through young talent and at the moment have a queue of youngsters knocking at the first-team door.
One of those players is Robinson. Considering the problem area that is left-back, it should not be ruled out that Robinson is a potential solution to Everton’s positional trouble.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Junior Stanislas winner cliches Premier League survival for Bournemouth
The Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom on Saturday.
Bournemouth fought back from 1-0 down to secure a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion, as they took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Cherries, but one player to standout was Junior Stanislas. The winger has been in good form during recent weeks and scored the winning goal on Saturday with a superb free-kick from range.
The 28-year-old is reaching the peak years of his career and he will want to be a regular starter in the top-flight. Bournemouth are a good fit for him, as there are no superstars and the team is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sprinklings of quality throughout and Stanislas is one of the players that can produce moments of brilliance on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, he has been one of the key attacking elements for Bournemouth. He has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League matches, but the one on Saturday was the most important of those as it was directly responsible for the win.
There were only minutes remaining and the chance came from a free-kick that was a long way out. Stanislas showed great confidence to take a shot and the resulting goal will go down as one of the best in his career to date.
The overall performance from Stanislas was a positive one, as he worked hard and contributed in both halves of the pitch from the left wing. The 28-year-old completed two dribbles and made one key pass during the contest, while his pass completion rate was 80%.
He was effective in possession and rarely gave the ball away, which aided the team’s attacking play. In addition to his goal, the winger offered a threat for the entire game and had four attempts on goal. This was the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Eddie Howe demands total commitment from his players and everyone is expected to contribute to the defensive effort. Stanislas certainly did that on Saturday as he completed both of his attempted tackles. It is important for the wingers to work back and help their full-backs in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Stanislas and Jordon Ibe did their bit for the team.
With their victory over West Brom, Bournemouth moved into the top ten of the Premier League and sit on 36 points. That should put an end to their relegation worries, as they are eight points clear of the bottom three with only seven matches left to play. Although the Cherries have been in the top-flight for three seasons now, it remains a huge achievement to stay in the division given the size of the club.
The success has been due to the team spirit and players stepping up to the highest level. Stanislas is a great example of that, as he has spent the majority of his career in the Football League. He helped Bournemouth get promoted and has continued to improve since the club arrived in the Premier League. Now he is one of the Cherries’ best players and moments like his goal on Saturday reflect that.
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