Liverpool: The kids are alright, but is that enough?
As symbolism goes the image was a pretty stark one.
On a chilly Sunday afternoon when there were many more serious issues than football to ponder at Anfield it seems wrong to pay so much attention to the mere matters that were going on at pitch level, but just seconds into the second half there was a moment that spoke volumes for just where Liverpool are heading under Brendan Rodgers.
The 18-year-old Jesús Joaquín Fernández Sáez de la Torre – or ‘Suso’ to his mates and now the millions worldwide who watched his Premier League debut on Sunday – picked the ball up on the left corner of the penalty area and was suddenly face-to-face with the man he’d entered the pitch with seconds earlier.
Whilst Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson had turned to Paul Scholes, 37, at half-time as his side sought to gain control of midfield now that Liverpool were down to 10 men, Rodgers had opted for Suso to replace the injured Fabio Borini.
Undeterred by the sense of occasion, the fact that this was his first act as a Premier League footballer nor that his side had seen a man sent off, Suso faced up to Scholes on the corner of the box, showed him the ball and then quick as a flash burst past a man more than twice his age. At that moment the great Scholes could probably feel his old bones creaking.
That Suso’s cross was only half-cleared and eventually – via the good work of Glen Johnson – resulted in Steven Gerrard firing Liverpool into a deserved lead only crystallised the moment more. These young Liverpool players, regardless of who they are facing and how many players they are facing them with, are fearless.
At 18 Suso wasn’t even the youngest Reds player on the pitch at the time, with that honour going to the 17-year-old Raheem Sterling. Jonjo Shelvey, 20, had somewhat harshly been sent off by then, whilst the injury suffered by the 22-year-old Martin Kelly would leave Liverpool with just nine men by full-time. Borini, 21, and Joe Allen, 22, were playing in their third Anfield league game since big summer moves to Merseyside, a switch made by 22-year-old second half substitute Jordan Henderson last year. The 19-year-old Andre Wisdom scored in the Europa League last week and could now be set for more appearances given that Kelly is out for the foreseeable future with an ACL injury. Many more young players at set to feature in the Capital One Cup at West Brom on Wednesday night.
The omnipresence of Gerrard and a late cameo from Jamie Carragher reminded everyone that this isn’t a total revolution just yet, but it is hard to think of a club operating at the levels Liverpool are that is currently putting so much faith in youth. As admirable as it is, the worry has to be that it is too much too soon.
The club’s failings in the transfer market have a lot to do with it of course, but Rodgers is on record extolling the virtues of his young charges.
As he and Ferguson have said in the past, young players will rarely let you down when called upon, but at a time when the club are coming to terms with a new style of play as well as new personnel with which to play it, the potential for errors has crept in. At this level such mistakes can and will be capitalised on, as United showed in coming back to win on Sunday.
The next three Premier League fixtures – away at Norwich and then at home to Stoke and Reading – have already been identified as crucial to Liverpool following their tough start, and the youngsters in the team are likely to have to grow up quickly if success is to be achieved in all of them.
There is no doubt that a great excitement builds when the likes of Suso and Sterling get the ball, but it is up to Gerrard and Luis Suarez to show seniority and help guide them. Allen, the excellent Johnson and the still acclimatising Nuri Sahin will prove important in this regard too.
Is it too much too young for some of these Liverpool players? That remains to be seen, but one thing that they are certainly not lacking in is confidence. If Suso can do that to Scholes, then anything is possible.
The kids aren’t United, they’re Liverpool, and this could just be the start of something special if it is given time.
Fantasy Yirma: Gameweek 1 preview
Gameweek 1 preview: The story of the Blues
By now you’ll have clocked it. There can’t really be a Fantasy player who hasn’t.
The 2012/13 season will kick-off with the European champions gracing us with a double Gameweek.
It can’t really get any better can it? You’ve got all those great Chelsea players to choose from and the chance to score double points with each and every one of them, and quadruple with your captain – be it Eden Hazard, Juan Mata or Ross Turnbull. The world is your expensive, Russian oil money-purchased oyster.
Yet is it that simple? Chelsea’s matches against first Wigan and then Reading certainly look winnable, but players should be mindful that the price for the Blues doubling up on Gameweek 1 is that they’ll miss out on Gameweek 3, when Roberto di Matteo’s side (if he’s still there by then) will have swanned off to Monaco to take on Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup.
So the question facing Fantasy bosses all summer has been whether or not to load up on Chelsea players for the first couple of Gameweeks or to stay away. The answer can be found in an annoying club song, because as far as this Gameweek is concerned – Blue is the colour.
Chelsea’s best players are all expensive enough for you to easily be able to find replacements once they miss out on playing in that third Gameweek, and so at least two and perhaps three of Di Matteo’s boys should be in your starting XI come the big kick-off on Saturday.
As for who those players are, well the Blues’ midfield can now be considered a minefield due to all the players that they have at their disposal in there, and whilst it’s tempting to go with the £9.5m pair of Hazard and Mata, perhaps the old stager Frank Lampard (£9.0m) could come up trumps at the start of yet another campaign.
The usual suspects at the back for Chelsea will feature heavily on plenty of Fantasy teamsheets, as will Fernando Torres (£10.0m), a strong captaincy choice at the start of a huge season personally.
As is the nature of the game, when one team has a double Gameweek then another must too, and its newly-promoted Reading who take the honours as 2012/13 kicks off.
They won’t be expected to take anything from Stamford Bridge next Wednesday, but their Saturday fixture at home to Stoke does offer the potential of a clean sheet for goalkeeper Adam Federici (£4.5m, and a useful substitute in your team) and the defenders. They are likely to start with a back four of Ian Harte, Alex Pearce (both £4.5m), Kaspars Gorkss and Chris Gunter (both £4.0m).
Further forward, the Russian Pavel Pogrebnyak (£5.0m) has proved popular due to his success at Fulham last season, whilst midfielder Danny Guthrie (£4.5m) is a good signing for the Royals and has a goal or two in him.
Elsewhere across the division as the big kick-off approaches, the potential for a stalemate between Newcastle and Tottenham should have you looking at nobody but goalkeepers and defenders from the pair, whilst wins are predicted for Arsenal and Liverpool as they start the season at home to Sunderland and away at West Brom respectively. Reds new boy Joe Allen (£5.5m) has proved a popular buy with one in four of Fantasy players selecting him.
Manchester City start the defence of their crown with what could be a goal-filled success at home to Southampton – Carlos Tevez, at £9.0m, looks even more of a steal after that Community Shield goal – whilst Manchester United can take advantage of Everton’s often slow start to the season when they go to Goodison Park on Monday night.
All eyes might be on Robin van Persie (£13.0m) there, but it is the return of Nemanja Vidic (£7.0m) which should have Fantasy bosses cheering.
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The new boys
A quick look at some of the new signings who’ll be making their Fantasy Premier League debuts this season. Can they cut it in Yirma?
Olivier Giroud, Forward, Arsenal – Fantasy Price Tag £9.0m
A Thierry Henry or a Jeremie Aliadiere? A Robin van Persie, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, or a Francis Jeffers, Kaba Diawara and Christopher Wreh?
Arsenal’s signings can be somewhat hit and miss, but Giroud joins Fantasy Premier League following two prolific years in France, where he helped unfancied Montpellier to win the league last season (an amazing achievement kind of on a par with say, Everton, winning it over here) and he’s bound to have an impact on the Gunners whatever happens with Van Persie.
A big, physical forward, Giroud was seen coming off the bench for France at the Euros – he missed a sitter against Sweden, but don’t let that put you off – and whilst his price is likely to put off all but the most confident of Yirma managers, he’ll be worth keeping an eye on after he’s had a couple of months to settle into life in England.
Marouane Chamakh has put him in his team already.
Shinji Kagawa, Midfielder, Manchester United – Fantasy Price Tag £8.5m
Kagawa is potentially the signing of the summer so far, for a number of different reasons.
Commercially, he’ll fill the Park Ji-Sung sized hole in United’s Asian market, but the Japanese international is much, much more than just a shirt selling signing.
As a key part of the Borussia Dortmund side which won back-to-back German titles, Kagawa scored goals, made assists and linked up the play brilliantly, something that he could do again for United if given the chance.
The trouble is, with Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young already competing for two spots on the wings and Wayne Rooney guaranteed to start upfront with Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez ready and willing to partner him (oh yeah, Dimitar Berbatov is still there too), just where will Kagawa play?
He might be seen from the bench in the opening weeks of the season as he searches for a position in United’s and your team, but the man from Japan has the quality to eventually make an impact.
Fabio Borini, Forward, Liverpool – Fantasy Price Tag £8.0m
Strictly speaking this isn’t the Italian’s Fantasy debut, as he got 37 minutes – and four points – for Chelsea in 2009/10, but the 21-year-old looks destined for a bigger impact this time around.
As Brendan Rodgers’ first signing for Liverpool, the forward will be eager to repay the trust of a man he’s already played for in Chelsea’s reserve side and at Swansea on loan, and with the Reds all set to play Rodgers’ attractive, possession-based style of football, the youngster is sure to have a key role in the side – certainly more key than Andy Carroll anyway.
Nine goals for Roma in Serie A last season after largely coming off the bench show that he knows where the net is, but Borini could also rack up the assists playing in one of the wide positions in Liverpool’s front three, with his partnership with Luis Suárez looking particularly attractive.
As always with new signings there is a danger that Borini won’t hit the ground running, but crucially he already knows that he’s got the confidence of his boss, and at 8.0 he might prove to be a bit of a bargain.
Eden Hazard, Midfielder, Chelsea – Fantasy Price Tag £9.5m
Look how many midfielders Chelsea have got! Just look at them!
They might have more players in there than more than a few countries have got representing them at the Olympics, but undoubtedly Hazard is the most intriguing ahead of the new season – considering that it’s likely to take the Brazilian Oscar a few months to settle in.
Hazard will be ready from the off though, and after months and months of transfer speculation the Belgian could well be ready to show just why he was the man everybody wanted.
Chelsea’s double gameweek in the first week of the season will have already drawn Yirma managers to their players, and Hazard might just hit the ground running in the same way that Deco did when he first joined the Blues in 2008 and immediately went into everyone’s fantasy teams.
The danger is that Hazard dips in form after that initial impact, but the warning to fantasy managers is already there.
Pick him from the start, or you may be sorry.
Lukas Podolski, Forward, Arsenal – Fantasy Price Tag £8.5m
The 27-year-old Podolski reached 100 caps for Germany during Euro 2012, an amazing achievement whatever your age, but have Arsenal signed the player who performs so consistently for his national team or the one who couldn’t save Cologne from relegation last season?
Podolski struggled the last time he made a big move – to Bayern Munich in 2006 – and after he returned to Cologne with his tail between his legs many in Germany wondered if he was able to handle the big time.
He’s more mature now of course, and is likely to start on the left of Arsenal’s front three when they kick-off their season.
He’s not going to be a prolific goalscorer, and his assists rate is sure to depend on whether or not Van Persie is around to finish off the chances he creates, but if Podolski finds his feet then there’s nothing to suggest that won’t be a good addition to any team at a reasonable price.
He’s an improvement on Gervinho anyway, although whether that’s praise or not is debateable.