Liverpool were held to a 1-1 draw in their Europa League group stage opener against Bordeaux. After Lallana netted a wonderful goal in the 65th minute, Bordeaux equalised in the 81st minute and the match finished level. With a stagnant performance offensively and a shaky display at the back, here’s what we learned:
1- Mamadou Sakho Is Our Best Defender:
Ok, so maybe we didn’t JUST learn this, but this match reiterated the point. Mamadou Sakho is without a doubt Liverpool’s best defender, which makes his status as a rotational player a criminal misuse of talent by Brendan Rodgers.
As captain of the Liverpool side on Thursday evening, Mamadou Sakho completed 90% of his passes, won 2/3 tackles, won 4/5 headers, intercepted 2 passes, and had 5 clearances. He was also the lone calm in an otherwise shaky back line. Sakho showed once again why he should be a weekly start ahead of Dejan Lovren.
2- The One-Striker System Isn’t Going to Work:
We’ve seen it time and again that one striker is not going to work for Liverpool. Our style of play tends to isolate the striker up top. As a result, especially with Benteke, we resort to flinging the ball into the forward hoping he’ll win a header, or playing the ball to his feet well outside the box. It’s been rare that our strikers have had the ball played directly to their feet in the box. Legitimate chances are hard to come by when you play that way.
Against Manchester United, both Benteke and Ings started and we all thought “Great, time to see what two strikers will look like”, but that was until we found out Rodgers decided to deploy Ings as a winger, and sometimes as a wingback. Bold strategy.
3- We Should All Be Afraid of Summer 2016:
Philippe Coutinho was visibly frustrated with our performance on Thursday night. There were several times has hands flew into the air out of disgust. He was even seen barking at Emre Can after Can played a ball into a well-marked Coutinho. In Emre Can’s defense, he probably doesn’t feel like Coutinho is ever well-marked, and I can’t say I disagree.
Coutinho’s talent has not gone unnoticed in Europe. Some of the world’s largest clubs have certainly watched him play and are foaming at the mouth to get an opportunity to pair the little Brazilian with some of Europe’s best players. If the play around Coutinho doesn’t improve, 2016 could very well see our Magician leave. Philippe has found it difficult to find a permanent place in the Brazilian national side, and may feel his chances could be improved if he were to join fellow Brazilian Neymar at Barcelona. Time will tell, but there is cause for concern.
4- Firmino Needs To Play:
Late in a very close match away in Europe, Brendan Rodgers sent in Cameron Brannagan. On its face, this is something of a questionable decision, but it is especially so considering we have Roberto Firmino sitting on the bench ready to inject his creative, relentless play into an otherwise stagnant offense. Rodgers decided to leave Firmino on the bench and Liverpool’s play in the final third remained underwhelming and ineffective right up until the end when the match ended in a 1-1draw. Firmino is never going to settle in the squad if he’s not given consistent minutes, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to get him some valuable time and perhaps insert some life into a dead attack. As we have seen in the past, a 1-0 lead for Liverpool is not safe until the final whistle blows. I’m all for getting playing time for the younger guys, but the timing must be right.
5- Liverpool Have Some Talented Youngsters
While it looked as if the moment was maybe a little too big for Rossiter and Chirivella at first, both settled into the midfield and really helped control the ball for a large portion of the second half. Some youthful mistakes and panicky play are to be expected, but as a whole I thought both offered some solid play to an otherwise dismal performance. Fair to note that at one point last night Liverpool’s average age of the starting XI was 21.7 years of age.