Hearts 0 Liverpool 1: Lessons learned as Reds pass Tynecastle test
Hearts 0 Liverpool 1: What did we learn from the Reds' hard-fought first-leg victory at the Tynecastle Stadium on Thursday?
Borini is not quite Inzaghi – yet
Ahead of Liverpool’s trip to Hearts, Fabio Borini admitted he found comparisons to Italy legend Filippo Inzaghi flattering but for now, wholly premature. The 21-year-old showed a willingness to run behind the Hearts defence however the former Roma striker lacked the vital finish to score his second goal in the Europa League this season. Borini’s attempt to guide Jordan Henderson’s cross past Jamie MacDonald was mistimed, while he struck the post with only MacDonald to beat after excellent work from Raheem Sterling. For Brendan Rodgers, the Italy international’s movement and link-up play will have been a positive, but improvement is needed if Borini is to share the workload with Luis Suárez in the Reds’ attack. For now, Borini’s only appropriate comparison to Inzaghi – who is record goal scorer in Europe club competitions (70) – is his ability to fall foul of the linesman’s flag.
Time’s up for Adam
Charlie Adam has been heavily linked with a move to Fulham as a makeweight in a possible deal to bring Clint Dempsey to Anfield in recent days. If this was the Scotland international’s final chance to prove to Rodgers that he has a future at the Merseyside outfit, then the Reds boss will have been left unconvinced. While the 26-year-old undoubtedly possesses the eye for the spectacular, the former Blackpool captain has a passing range which can, at times, rival Liverpool favourite Xabi Alonso, he is hindered by inconsistency – and a selfish streak. This was highlighted in the eighth minute, as Adam spearheaded a dangerous counter-attack, and despite Sterling providing an outlet to his left and angling to run at an exposed Heart’s defence, the ex-Rangers midfielder opted to ambitiously shoot from long distance. His cumbersome, lethargic style, disappointing set-piece delivery and poor use of possession leaves Rodgers with no choice but to usher Adam towards the Liverpool exit door.
Henderson and Spearing lack penetration
Henderson’s passing lacked a sense of purpose throughout the match, and he was all-too-willing to resort to the safe short, back and sides at Tynecastle Stadium. Perhaps the former Sunderland midfielder is restricted by fear of conceding possession – Henderson completed a respectable 83 per cent of his passes last season, but how many where game-changing? Very few. The England international does have the ability to be adventurous, as shown by his time at the Black Cats – and he provided delicious curling ball for Borini in the first half which the Italian failed to convert. Meanwhile, Henderson’s midfield partner Jay Spearing has been linked with a move to Nottingham Forest this week following the arrival of Joe Allen. Spearing, who was the captain of Liverpool’s Youth Cup-winning side in 2007, cannot be faulted in terms of effort, but he was largely anonymous – aside from a gorgeous pass wide which released Sterling in the first half. With Lucas Leiva, Steven Gerrard, Henderson and Joe Cole all fighting for a place in central midfield – not to mention Adam – Spearing could be best served proving himself in the Championship for a season before realising his potential elsewhere in the Premier League.
With Liverpool being heavily linked with Manchester City winger Adam Johnson, Sterling had a chance to prove to Rodgers that he can provide the solution to the Reds’ winger conundrum. The 17-year-old, snapped up by Rafael Benitez from Queens Park Rangers in February 2010, was a real positive for Liverpool on Thursday. Aside from a moment of selfishness from Adam in the early moments, Sterling burst into life midway through the first half as he became an outlet for the unimaginative Reds midfield. In the 22nd minute, Spearing found Sterling, and the winger fearlessly took on Ryan McGowan before having his shot blocked. Moments later, a quick turn on the Hearts’ area caused confusion, and a desperate lunging challenge was needed to prevent the forward from tucking a finish past MacDonald. Sterling also showed a willingness to use his less favoured left foot, while his concentration was faultless. Seconds before half-time, the forward intercepted a ball in midfield, broke clear before squaring to Borini, whose effort hit the post. Rodgers will use Sterling sparingly, but the winger looks capable of making the step up to the first-term, if and when he is needed.
If thoughts of Tottenham’s 5-0 victory at Tynecastle had given Liverpool’s travelling support hope of a one-sided first leg of their Europa League playoff, then a raucous home crowd ensured the latest ‘Battle of Britain’ would live up to its billing. The SPL outfit were direct, and pressed Rodgers’ side, forcing errors from the visitors. In particular, David Templeton was a constant threat down Hearts’ left-hand side, with Martin Kelly and Jamie Carragher being drawn out of position to tackle the forward. In the 17th minute, a bustling run from Templeton and subsequent shot drifted just over the crossbar, but drew roars of approval from the Hearts fans. John Sutton, son of former Celtic striker Chris Sutton, also troubled Daniel Agger, drawing an error from the Denmark captain which resulted in Callum Paterson attempting to fire past Pepe Reina at the near post. John McGowan’s side were unfortunate to be punished with a sloppy own-goal 11 minutes before full-time, but aptly, showed plenty of heart to keep going to the final whistle – Reina was forced to deny Andrew Driver and Paterson in injury time, and the Edinburgh side can cause Liverpool trouble at Anfield. This tie is far from over.