When Liverpool headed down to Devon just over a week ago it was evident that Jurgen Klopp wouldn’t have been heart-broken if the Reds had been knocked out of the country’s most famous cup competition. His decision to play the kids was, to many, a suggestion that he’d sooner look after his more senior players than progress to the next round of The FA Cup.
The German denied that idea, however, saying that he picks the players he thinks can win any given match. If you’re not a member of the press, desperate for some sort of controversy, you’d perhaps be keen to give the Liverpool manager the benefit of the doubt. He’s pretty much had a game every few days since he took over at Anfield, after all, so he’s barely had a chance to unpack his boxes, let alone assess his squad.
Some Liverpool fans weren’t impressed by the 2-2 away draw the other day. They wanted a stronger team in the replay, a team that could put the tie to bed without too much hard work or worry. Klopp had other ideas, though, and went with pretty much the same team again with the addition of Joe Allen and the hapless Bogdan replaced by the slightly less hapless Mignolet. Would it be enough to take care of the League 2 upstarts? Or would it be more of the same from a youthful team, toiling to get the result that would see the Reds welcome West Ham in the 4th round?
The Future’s Bright Enough
Manchester United have never lacked stars, especially during the Premier League era when players like Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo lit up matches. One of the things Alex Ferguson did best, though, was to bolster those superstars with youth players, players who would never be top go anyone’s shopping list but who knew the club inside out and could slip into any team the manager picked with ease.
Really like the look of Brannagan. Hope he gets some minutes in the Premier League this season.
— Sam McGuire (@SamMcGuire90) January 20, 2016
Liverpool have done that well over the years too, of course. Players like Carragher, McManaman and even Steven Gerrard all came through the youth ranks. But in recent years it’s felt a little bit like if the players didn’t look like world-beaters immediately then they wouldn’t get a look in. Brendan Rodgers, for all of his talk about being happy to use the kids, found it difficult to turn to his youth players when he felt he was under the kosh.
The result has been countless players heading out on loan, a feeling of disjointedness between the first team and the youth teams, players sent away when the could have been useful and a real scarcity of players who understand the club and what is expected of them when the senior squad finds itself operating with a skeleton crew.
And as I’ve said many times, Ojo my tip for the future. So much talent. What a goal.
— Paul Tomkins (@paul_tomkins) January 20, 2016
It’s difficult to judge how useful the kids could be in a Premier League or Europa League game when we’re only seeing them against League Two opposition, obviously. It’s also fair to say that you won’t know how well they’ll work with the first team when you’re watching them play alongside a team of similarly aged and able players.
Yet did any one of the players disgrace themselves at Anfield? Were there any junior players that you’d be particularly disappointed to see come off the bench in a game against the likes of Watford, Sunderland or Aston Villa? Players like Branagan, Teixeira and Kevin Stewart looked solid, dependable and comfortable in their Anfield surroundings. Brad Smith and Sheyi Ojo, meanwhile, look like they could give the likes of Alberto Moreno and Adam Lallana a run for their money in the regular starting line-up.
Whilst Christian Benteke looks like a cross between a player devoid of confidence and someone who just doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do in any Liverpool team and Jose Enrique looks distraught that he wasn’t playing on FIFA, Ojo terrorised the Exeter defence from the moment he came on and scored a sumptuous goal and Illori looked perfectly happy to just defend.
Liverpool have been hit with an injury crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen for years on the Red half of Merseyside. There’s no way of knowing for sure whether the youth players will be able to perform as well against Premier League sides as they did against Exeter, but Jurgen Klopp will be pleased to see them at least put themselves into his mind when he’s considering his options should another hamstring go in the coming months. The kids, as they say, are alright.
Allen Forcing The Issue
Joe Allen will be feeling quietly pleased with himself tonight and probably asking if he’s done enough for Jurgen Klopp to turn to him a little more often in the league. After his phenomenal no-look assist against Stoke having run the game in the Potteries he then came off the bench to score a top-notch equaliser against Arsenal and now he’s scored in the FA Cup against Exeter.
At a time when players like Adam Lallana and Emre Can aren’t offering the Reds anything in front go goal, Allen’s two goals and one assist in three matches mean that he really should be asking questions of his manager. Perhaps it is, as the old cliche goes, time to knock on Jurgen Klopp’s door and ask him why he’s not starting more regularly?
Joe Allen has two goals and an assist in his last three Liverpool appearances.
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 20, 2016
The truth is that he should, in theory, be exactly the sort of player that Jurgen Klopp loves. He presses, he harries, he harasses opposition defenders and is constantly moving and offering a pass to his team-mates. Admittedly he might be a bit on the short side, but right now does that matter considering Liverpool’s inability to put the ball into the back of the net? He might not be a long-term option for Klopp, but the club seems to have done exactly the right thing in rejecting Swansea’s recent approach to take the Welsh Xavi back to The Liberty Stadium.
Right now I’d certainly rather see Joe Allen in the team than Adam Lallana, and I quite like Adam Lallana. The former Saints player knows how to hold the ball up, he knows how to challenge defenders and turn players inside out, asking questions of the opposition and creating space for his team-mates. The problem is that he can’t score.
Joe Allen on the other hand, seems to have discovered his shooting boots. He knows how to score and has contributed more to Liverpool in his last three appearances than Adam Lallana has in his last 30. He’s running the games that he’s appearing in and whilst Jose Enrique might have been wearing the armband it was the Welshman who gave the captain’s performance. Now it’s time for Jurgen Klopp to bite the bullet and bring him in to the first team.
Benteke In Trouble
If this was Christian Benteke’s opportunity to get his Liverpool career back on track then it’s fair to say that he fluffed his lines. The problem that the big Belgian has got is that he needs to be pulling up trees but in reality all he’s doing is tickling some branches.
Benteke was involved with two of the goals, making a nuisance of himself and causing the Exeter defence problems, but he didn’t do enough when he was presented with some good opportunities. Moments that particularly stood out were the Teixeira cross that he put over the bar and the counter-attack in the final minute that he didn’t know what to do with.
Michael Owen: “Benteke is a brilliant header of the ball, I pull my hair out watching him, he just hangs around. Get in the box.” #lfc
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) January 20, 2016
Perhaps he’s still got something he can offer Liverpool in the Premier League, but it’s difficult to see what. Plenty of commentators and even some Liverpool fans have been critical of Klopp’s decision to drop the Belgian from front-line duties in recent games, with some suggesting that the fact that he’s scored the only goals in Liverpool’s 1-0 wins is proof positive that, for now at least, the team should be built around him.
Yet tonight, against League Two’s Exter City, Christian Benteke didn’t do the critical thing that £32.5 million strikers are supposed to do – he didn’t score. Given that the tall striker goes so completely and utterly against Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp’s style of play, should we really be using him as anything more than a good option off the bench?
In the striker’s defence he isn’t the only Liverpool player who is struggling in front of goal. The club’s worst ‘goals for’ column since the beginning of all time certainly puts paid to the idea that it’s only Benteke who can’t score. It’s also worth pointing out that when he was at his best at Aston Villa he had players like Gabby Agbonlahor buzzing around him and creating space or getting on to the end of his knockdowns.
For better or worse, he doesn’t have that at Liverpool. He is, to all intents and purposes, on his own for the foreseeable future. In the absence of Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi and a failed relationship with Roberto Firmino thus far, Benteke doesn’t have what he needs around him. Like an only child, Christian Benteke hasn’t got anyone to play with and until and unless that changes it’s difficult to see how Jurgen Klopp can possibly get Benteke to fit in a way that suits all parties.