Belfast Telegraph

Christian Benteke strikes to become instant Kop hero

Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth

By Ian Herbert

The Anfield Main Stand was a metaphor for what we saw in the Liverpool team assembled to play beneath it. A work in progress, still a full season from completion, with shiny new steel in position but jagged remnants of the old parts, too - yet to be dismembered.

Their six points are the monumentally significant part for the home team, relieving pressure from the manager, Brendan Rodgers.

With Arsenal up next, that certainly helps. Rodgers can also reflect on early signs of a genuine attacking partnership, in Christian Benteke and Philippe Coutinho, which offers the threat and synchronicity which have been so painfully absent since Luis Suarez left. But the less-than-emphatic scoreline told the story.

The game turned on two refereeing decisions which could have gone either way.

Liverpool take maximum points forwards and Bournemouth, who included former Coleraine youngster Eunan O'Kane are yet to register one. It would be no injustice on the evidence of their first two matches if each had collected two from two.

There was the view of an emerging new world on offer, the roof trusses of a half-built stand in place, a new captain's programme notes, four new players and a corresponding sense of anticipation.

The sense of anticipation was punctured in the five minutes it took to appreciate that new beginnings are not quite as easy as that, that Dejan Lovren does not become an accomplished defender because of a collective will, and that a team does not necessarily add up to the sum of the parts if it does not know to operate as a collective.

Jordan Henderson's notes were full of the promise of how it will be, no problems speaking up if players step out of line, no guarantees of a place in the team, though the look on his face did not seem to bear that out when he was withdrawn after 52 minutes.

None of this was material to Liverpool's need for mutual understanding, which is what Eddie Howe's Bournemouth possessed and their hosts did not when the sides went about their work.

Nathaniel Clyne struggled - turned twice by Max Gradel - Lovren was stretched to what looked the limit of his ability and within five minutes Bournemouth had the ball in the net, Tommy Elphick rising above Lovren to deposit a header that Simon Mignolet floundered around.

You could have heard a pin drop in the moment before the reality dawned that Elphick had his right hand over the defender's shoulder and that the effort would be struck out.

The busy note taking of Rodgers belied the elementary fault at the heart of their struggle to mount anything as determined and effective as Howe's players.

It was the failure to see the value that Benteke was adding by winning virtually every aerial ball.

You fancied that it was in blind frustration that Benteke decided to take matters into his own hands half-way through the first period, dropping deep to collect a loose ball 25 yards from goal, driving into open space and dispatching it narrowly over Artur Boric's bar.

James Milner was looking for him, yet struggling to distribute well, working sideways when something forward was in order. It is hard to overstate the importance to Rodgers of all this beginning to work.

Liverpool's owners believe they have offered him much more certainty by spending at the top end of market valuations this summer, paying Hoffenheim for Roberto Firmino and then Aston Villa for Benteke, despite all the private protestations about his buyout clause.

The signs are that Coutinho may become an even more valuable player than the one Rodgers thought priceless last season. It was he who began to intuit the danger Benteke would bring and he who sought him out. It was he who did the hard yards, box to box, and began to galvanise the side.

It was he who assumed the role of leader, subtly shifting the momentum in a way that bought Liverpool their goal, albeit more by good luck than judgement.

Henderson exchanged a short corner pass and whipped in a low, sharp cross with pace which missed the Bournemouth defence, the outstretched leg of Coutinho - who had still been in an offside position after he retreated - and reached Benteke, who poked out a boot to send it in. It was a giant slice of luck for the hosts.

There were other signs of recovery in those moments. Clyne's thumping challenge into Gradel, from which he emerged with the ball, seemed to quieten the threat of the Ivorian. Henderson took a speculative first-time shot which landed on the roof of the net and Coutinho then ran close to scoring himself, collecting a rebound to ease into the Bournemouth area, from where he steered a low shot wide. But with Londonderry man O'Kane, the one-time Everton academy trainee anchoring midfield, and Callum Wilson in attack, Bournemouth were in possession enough to maintain a threat.

It was just beyond the hour that those two combined, Wilson nutmegging Lovren in the penalty area to find the onrushing O'Kane, who found the side netting.

The game's closing stages brought more signs of the force Benteke may prove to be, as he clattered Clyne's low cross from the right against the bar. It also brought Alberto Moreno tearing imperiously 30 yards in on goal, creating a free-kick routine so intricate that Milner - surprised to be find himself in possession - spooned 50 yards wide.

Six points out of six for Liverpool but much to do.

Belfast Telegraph


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