Stewart Downing was one of the signings which defined Kenny Dalglish’s ultimately disappointing return to the Liverpool helm. The 27-year-old joined from Aston Villa in an inflated £20m deal last summer as Dalglish looked to add width to his side. To put that figure in context, Downing’s former Villa team-mate Ashley Young was signed by Manchester United for a fee in the region of £15m. And while Young produced a respectable tally eight goals in his first season at Old Trafford, Downing managed a measly two successful strikes. His performance against Gomel was far from outstanding, but the midfielder’s winning strike provided a glimpse of his talent. The challenge now for Rodgers will be to entice a series of consistant performances from the winger throughout the course of a long season.
Fabio Borini’s competitive debut for Liverpool was underwhelming but it certainly gave an insight into the qualities the former Chelsea forward will bring to Rodgers’ side. The 21-year-old sealed a return to the Premier League after one season in the Italian capital, scoring nine Serie A goals for Roma. On the evidence of Thursday night’s display, the Azzurri star will not be the prolific finisher the Liverpool supporters have craved since Fernando Torres’ departure to Chelsea. But his cunning movement, combined with Luis Suárez’s trickery, will certainly be a tough test for any Premier League defence. In the 49th minute, José Enrique burst down the left wing and played an incisive pass into Borini, who had peeled of his marker’s shoulder. The ex-Swansea City star was denied by a quick-reaction save from Vladmir Bushma but another run 10 minutes later split the Gomel defence – yet once again the Italian lacked the composure to put his new employers ahead. The early signs are promising but unless Rodgers adds an accomplished finisher to his squad, Suárez will be under tremendous pressure to weigh in with the majority of Liverpool’s goals next season.
Gomel were certainly not fazed by facing the five-time European Cup winners, and the Belarusians provided Brendan Rodgers side with a stern test as their superior fitness was evident. Gomel – midway through their domestic campaign – enjoyed large periods of possession as the Reds struggled to implement Rodgers’ ideas in their first competitive test. In particular, Aleksandr Alumona troubled a ragged Liverpool defence missing Denmark international Daniel Agger. The Russian striker was a constant threat and his best opportunity came just before half-time, when he out-muscled and out-paced Martin Skrtel but Liverpool’s Brad Jones dived at Alumona’s feet to prevent the visitors falling behind. In midfield, Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing struggled to keep hold of possession, and the latter was guilty of being wasteful. The Reds youth graduate was almost punished in the 70th minute when Sergei Kozeka intercepted his poor pass and rattled the post with a ferocious attempt. Lucas Leiva’s return from a lengthy injury and Liverpool’s interest in Joe Allen will almost certainly mean Spearing drops to the fringes of Rodgers’ squad.
Steven Gerrard graciously handed Jamie Carragher the captain’s armband as the centre-half made his 700th appearance for Liverpool on Thursday. The 34-year-old made his first-team debut in the League Cup semi-final against Middlesbrough in 1997 and has since picked up an impressive 11 honours. Carragher started his Anfield career predominantly occupying the full-back positions under Roy Evans and Gerard Houiller, and he was part of the Liverpool side that picked up five trophies in 2001. However, it was under Rafael Benítez that he truly blossomed as he partnered Sami Hyypia in the centre of Liverpool’s defence. Carragher earned plenty of admirers as his committed and full-blooded style of defending helped the Reds reach the Champions League final against AC Milan – and after a frenetic 120 minutes – win the club’s fifth European Cup on penalties. He only trails Ian Callaghan in terms of appearances – the former Liverpool midfielder’s tally is 856.