Just like that, the Reds are officially back. Here is The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) is back again this season with what we learnt…
It was a shorter wait than normal with the distraction of the World Cup helping ease football withdrawal pains during the summer but let’s be honest, it is never quite the same. It had been a short but efficient summer by Liverpool bringing in key men in positions of great need. The return to Anfield was as triumphant, and as full of swagger as we all had hoped for. A West Ham side that themselves had made some very positive changes over the summer were swatted aside mercilessly by the dynamic Reds with goals from Mo Salah, a pair from Sadio Mané and a late strike with his first touch from the rejuvenated Daniel Sturridge. It was a near perfect start but what did we learn from this dominating display?
I have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of Naby Keita to Anfield for over a year. I knew he would be a great fit, and I knew too he would be a good player but with each passing week I am slowly realizing that he is not just good, he is THAT good. I know it is still early days but if there was ever a player deserving of inheriting the number eight jersey, it is Keita. He prowls around the pitch with a looming air of menace and yet his quality on the ball is probably what strikes more fear into his opponents above anything else.
In an era of more specialist role players in midfield, Keita is an old school jack of all trades. He didn’t need to do a whole lot yesterday and you do get a sense that he still playing well within himself and yet I just can’t look away. Will he dribble? Will he pass? Will he apply pressure? Will he drift quietly into space? Will he jump into a crunching tackle? I really have no idea, and I absolutely love it.
Keep it going Naby… it has only been pre-season plus one game but you are already more than fulfilling my lofty expectations.
Milner the Magnificent
I must admit that I never at any point considered James Milner a player destined for our starting eleven when he signed on a free from Manchester City. I did like the signing a lot, as I knew he could fill in all over the pitch but the man just continues to amaze me in ways I just did not foresee. The old cliche that a player gets better with age just has to be applied to Milner. He truly is a marvel of human nature. The man is still one of, if not the fittest player at the club, and seems to be playing with levels of energy never before reached.
What is funny is, when everyone is fit I probably still wouldn’t have the assist king in our first team. However, that is more a testament to the quality in the current squad rather than anything against Milner. He has proven that he more than deserves every opportunity to play that he gets and I am so thankful that he is around. Now speaking of that squad depth….
What was most striking when the teams were announced yesterday was not just the quality of the starting eleven but the amount of talent not only on the bench but also who didn’t make the match day squad at all. There was no room for Simon Mignolet (well that one makes sense), Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi, Dominic Solanke, Curtis Jones, or Marko Grujic and that’s not even considering injured players like Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan.
Instead the bench was packed to the brim with even more top talents like Fabinho, Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri, Danny Sturridge, and captain Jordan Henderson. That is some phenomenal depth if I don’t say so myself. It reminded me of the Rafa years when there was one game against United where for some reason Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, and Ryan Babel were all unable to start and were warming up together. What a scary sight that is for our opponents compared to last season already.
Joe Gomez is probably at best the 4th string centre half and he did not look at all out of place next to Virgil van Dijk. The squad admittedly still has a soft underbelly in some key places but overall given where we were, this depth is very pleasing to see.
Sturridge is Back
How could I cap off our opening day win without paying tribute to the returned and reinvigorated scoring sensation that is Daniel Sturridge. I feared that the journey was over in January when he departed for West Brom on loan. It felt like the end of the road. I honestly felt more pain with Danny leaving than I did with Coutinho going. Not only for what he achieved but also what could have been and who he is as a person.
He has seemingly comeback as a different man and what a pleasure that is. He scored with his first touch yestedary and the dance which so riles up opposing supporters was back with a vengeance. Never change Daniel. The addition of a workhorse like Keita should make incorporating Sturridge more regularly in the team more straightforward which can only be a good thing for the team. By the way, oh how I would have loved to have Sturridge on the bench in the Champions League final. What an impact he could have made… Well now he’s back and looking to make up for lost time and partying like it is 2013 again.
It was a near flawless start by the Reds and the high expectations created by some wonderful pre-season form will stay elevated for now. The next fixture away to Crystal Palace will be a very tricky contest and the team will need to be at their best to bring home three points. But who would bet against it right now? I for one cannot wait for this day next week already. Here’s to a great season Reds!