Keane still waiting to make his mark

Anfield's latest £20m striker has yet to open his account but he's not worried – those cartwheels will be back soon. By Steve Tongue
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The Independent Football

Fifth time lucky? It took Robbie Keane five games to score his first goal for Tottenham, and now after four blanks he is hoping to break the duck for Liverpool at Aston Villa this afternoon. Keen but not desperate, you might say. Happy to have finally arrived at his favourite club, albeit via Wolves, Coventry, Internazionale, Leeds and Tottenham, the little striker from a Dublin council estate is leaving others to worry about what looks from the outside like a difficult process of settling in.

He has been substituted in three out of four games so far, in which Liverpool have been deeply unimpressive: a lucky draw away to Standard Liège in the Champions' League qualifying round, followed by three late, scrambled victories by a single goal, the last of them against the same unfortunate Belgian opponents at Anfield on Wednesday night.

On that last occasion Keane had been hauled off more than half an hour before Dirk Kuyt's knee bundled in a goal worth minimally £10 million and possibly twice as much if Liverpool advance as far as usual in the Champions' League. After being drawn with PSV Eindhoven, Marseille and Atletico Madrid, there will be no room for thesort of errors that have littered performances in the past month.

A fee of £20m for Keane would have looked an awful lot to American eyes had the prospect of earning that amount in Europe been passed up on Wednesday. But the player himself is using previous experience of a slow start to ease concerns about how effective a signing he is going to be in the long term.

"Coming to a new club when you've been at another club for so long, it is always difficult," he insisted. "New players, new environment, it takes a little bit of getting used to.

"It is always nice to score, don't get me wrong," Keane added. "But as long as the team are doing well, that is the most important thing. When you're 28 and have got experience with many clubs, you're not worried one bit about it, as long as the team are winning. That is why I don't really talk about it. I'm not worriedand if I'm not worried, you shouldn't worry."

Point taken; and six points taken from Liverpool's opening games against Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Neither, however, was a convincing performance, any more than were the two games with Standard, and now they must go to Villa Park without Steven Gerrard, who scored a superb winning goal there last August but whose subdued performances this season have been explained by the need for an operation on his groin.

"I've been struggling for numerous weeks with it," Gerrard admitted. "It's a very tough time when you're a player and you're injured, and we've got some very big games coming up both for club and country, so it's a massive frustration for me. But I haven't been able to reach my levels because my groin has been so sore."

Gerrard said Liverpool's performances have been below par as well as his own: "We managed to grind out a result against Liège and we've ground out two results in the League, but we're not performing as we'd like to be performing."

He will therefore miss a midfield confrontation today with Gareth Barry, who had at several points during this long, cool summer been expected to join him in Liverpool's midfield as well as England's. Gerrard's replacement today will presumably be Javier Mascherano, who is back from the Olympics with his gold medal, but for all his qualities he will not add to their attacking options.

Keane, naturally enough, believes he will soon strike up a relationship with Fernando Torres as effective as the one he enjoyed in a 46-goal partnership at Tottenham last season with Dimitar Berbatov. "It is only going to come with games. It is one of those things, it won't just happen all of a sudden. We have to understand each other and what the team do. It is not about me or Fernando, or Stevie. It is about the team winning, that is the most important thing."

What he has already found is how much more respect visiting teams pay the home side at Anfield than was the case at White Hart Lane, which last season saw more goals than any other Premier League ground.

"One thing you have to get used to when you are playing at a club like Liverpool is that at home you get the whole [opposing] team behind the ball. You saw that against Liège. You get two holding midfielders, which makes it harder for a second striker to get on the ball than if you were playing a team that are fairly open. Being Liverpool, people come and sit back and try and catch you on the counterattack. The games since I've been here, I think every team has done the same thing."

Martin O'Neill will demand that Villa are bolder than that on their own ground today, and with much more natural width than Liverpool they are well equipped to go at them on a pitch 20 feet wider than Anfield. But that means more space for Keane as well. That trademark cartwheel celebration ought not to be too long coming.