Still without a win in the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers clearly has some distance to travel in his quest to reshape Liverpool in his own image but that development process perhaps took a significant step forward with a victory that might have piqued his interest in defending the club’s possession of the League Cup, particularly now that the draw has given him his old club, Swansea, in the fourth round.
Rodgers, his hand partially forced by injuries but largely because of where his priorities lie, cast aside all of his 11 starters from Sunday’s home defeat against Manchester United in favour of most of those who emerged on top in that other unwanted diversion, the Europa League, in Switzerland last week, in that extraordinary tie against Young Boys of Berne.
Even he admitted most neutrals, and perhaps a good few who were not, would have weighed up last night’s odds and predicted that the home side, who had beaten a much more experienced Liverpool team in some comfort on the opening day of the Premier League, would come out on top again.
Yet the opposite happened. Steve Clarke’s team took an early lead when a mistake by Brad Jones handed Gabriel Tamas an easy goal and might have gone further ahead in a strong opening phase. But Liverpool recovered to draw level and then dominate the remainder of the first half, before withstanding a second wave of pressure at the start of the second period to take charge again, scoring their decisive second goal eight minutes from the end.
The finisher in both instances was the German-born Turkey international Nuri Sahin, signed on a season-long loan from Real Madrid, whose integration into the Liverpool side might have been further advanced by now had he not missed a chunk of pre-season while his future was in the balance.
On only his third appearance, Sahin scored first after 17 minutes, beating Ben Foster from 25 yards at the near post. Always a key figure in linking Liverpool’s passing manoeuvres, he already had a claim to be man of the match before he popped up with the winner, steering the ball home from close range on the end of a low cross from Oussama Assaidi.
“He is still getting up to speed,” Rodgers said. “It has been difficult for him. He missed a big part of pre-season but he is getting better every day. He has a great football arrogance, the confidence to shoot from distance and the ability as he showed with the second goal to arrive in the box.
“But it was a good team performance. The courage to want the ball was very prominent tonight.
“It is exciting to see young players with great technique but what is important is they know how to fight,” Rodgers added. “The second goal in particular showed what we are about.”
The reception from the Liverpool fans was certainly in approval. There were three teenagers on at the start with another five on the bench, including Jerome Sinclair, whose appearance in the last 10 minutes made him Liverpool’s youngest senior player at 16 years and six days. Where they lacked experience they compensated in fearlessness.
Their spirit was exemplified, as Rodgers said, in the decisive goal. Albion had looked strong enough perhaps to persuade a more conservative approach from Liverpool but then Suso, the Spain Under-19 international Rodgers ushered on at the same time as Sinclair, responded to his first possession by launching a run through the middle that had the home defence back peddling. Intelligently, he slipped the ball wide to Assaidi, in free space, whose cross was perfectly weighted for Sahin to convert and send Liverpool onwards.