Cole injured, but Sterling plays as new Liverpool era begins
Liverpool fail to convince but Brendan Rodgers begins his reign with a win in Europe
Gomel 0 Liverpool 1. The Olympics may be in full swing but football is waking from its summer slumbers, and last night Liverpool kicked off their new campaign, and the Brendan Rodgers era, with a win over Belarusian side Gomel in a Europa League qualifier.
The Reds emerged victorious thanks to a solitary goal from an unlikely source, Stewart Downing, the winger who failed to notch a single goal or assist during last season's Premier League campaign.
The result, and also the performance, were unconvincing and the fixture was overshadowed by Rodgers' decision to leave both Andy Carroll and Daniel Agger in England. The pair are at the centre of transfer speculation and although Carroll was apparently left out because of a slight injury Agger's agent made it clear that he did not know why the defender had been dropped, heightening speculation he could be leaving the club.
Another transfer target, 17-year-old Raheem Sterling, did get a run out, but only after Joe Cole was injured in the first half. He limped off after quarter of an hour into his Liverpool comeback with a hamstring problem.
Sterling arrived at Anfield aged 15 from QPR with a big reputation and made his first team debut towards the end of last season, he was expected to head back to Rangers on loan this season, but it has been reported that Spurs are preparing to offer £7.5m for the player. He and new signing Fabio Borini gave fans a taste of what the future holds for Liverpool, but it was Downing who made the difference after 67 minutes.
Overall the performance was unconvincing. "There has been much positivity about Liverpool's future under Rodgers since he took over from Kenny Dalglish, but this did not fit in with such optimism," said The Times.
The Guardian concurred. "If you cannot be good, be lucky, and the old saying certainly applied to the Northern Irishman's competitive debut in Belarus," it commented.
They were certainly ring rusty. "The patient passing game will understandably take longer than a few weeks to perfect," noted The Daily Telegraph. "The reminders that Liverpool's euro 2012 contingent have only worked with the new manager for ten days were all too potent as the game started to resemble an advert for why Europa League qualification can be an unwanted side effect of winning last season’s Carling Cup."