Optimism has been in short supply over the last six months at Anfield. Liverpool’s seventh place finish last season kind of took away any belief that our squad could compete with the best. Critics were lining up to criticise Rafa Benitez and his apparent wasteful spending that led a small squad of supposedly mediocre players beyond Torres and Gerrard who could not cope with injuries to a few key players. Gone had the praise of a year before when the Reds run Manchester United so closely in the title race, only losing two games while finishing on 86 points. As I’ve said before, the team did not just become bad overnight, confidence just seeped away along with any hopes of Champions League football last season. New manager Roy Hodgson said after the Rabotnicki game yesterday, that the squad did not need a massive overhaul:
“I don’t think I’ve ever said the squad is in need of a major overhaul. We need to add one or two players to the team. It is important we keep the nucleus from last season and a nucleus of players who are maybe just behind the first team.”
Although our first competitive match was against Macedonian minnows, and only so much could be ascertained from such a match, the performance did provide us with some good causes for hope for the new season. Roy was very worried about the match being a potential banana skin before the game but a combination of a good display by the Reds and a bit of stage fright from Rabotnicki gave Liverpool a comfortable win. It was clear from the match that ball retention was central to the game plan and meant the Reds backline, with three World Cup players in it who had relatively little training, had very little to do.
Rather than the established internationals like Alberto Aquilani, Milan Jovanovic and Daniel Agger taking the limelight, it was David Ngog, David Amoo and Martin Kelly who took centre stage. The very players that Roy had worried about in such a difficult early season match in a hostile atmosphere, really impressed. They looked like they had something to prove and the 2-0 victory has shown Roy that there are talented youngsters coming through the ranks at Anfield.
Of course, let’s not go overboard with the performance as I said it was against a very average Macedonian team but the youngsters still didn’t shirk responsibility. Without 11 World Cup stars, the Reds took the sting out of the match and came back with a good result. It demonstrates to Roy that even though there is currently no squad depth in regards to senior players, there is, as he said after the match, a good “nucleus of players,” young players behind the first team ready and able to come in and play.
If you impress Roy, like Ngog, Kelly and Amoo certainly did, then you must be doing something right for the Liverpool boss is no fool after 34 years in management. Although relieved at getting a win in his first competitive match, I’m sure Roy learnt more about the young players than anything else. Compared to other squads, especially Chelsea and Manchester United’s ageing sides, Liverpool’s is a very young team. Even looking at first team squad members such as Alberto Aquilani, Lucas Leiva and Daniel Agger, they are barely over 25, and this can only bode well for the future if Roy can add some experience and depth to the first team squad. The average age of the subs bench with Gulacsi, Darby, Shelvey, Dalla Valle, Eccleston, Ayala, and Ince was only 19, and hopes for Dalla Valle, Shelvey and Ayala are particularly high. Add to that the talents of Dani Pacheco who has been setting the European U19 Championships alight in recent weeks, and I am feeling quite up beat about next season at the moment, and the prospects for our young players beyond that.
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