There has been much debate over the quality of Liverpool’s performance in their opening league match of the 2011/12 season against Sunderland.
The classic ‘game of two halves’ cliché was wheeled out after the Reds contrived to follow a half of dazzling and quick paced attacking football with one of leaden footed hoofing towards their giant Geordie up front.
However, something people have perhaps been overlooking is the youth of the starting XI Liverpool fielded last Saturday. It turns out that it was the joint second youngest of all of the 20 Premier League teams that started during Matchday One (as they have to call it seeing as it in fact covers three days).
The Reds’ eleven clocked in at just 25 years and 4 months old on average. The only team younger than them last weekend was Manchester United at 24 years and 5 months, and the scale runs through to Fulham at a positively AC Milan-esque 31 years and 3 months old. Wonder which of their former managers bought in so many old players?
Rhetorical questions aside, this demonstrates that Liverpool fielded a very young team on Saturday. Of course, it would be fair to point out that Steven Gerrard and Dirk Kuyt (who are both 31) will likely start most weeks when fit for the rest of the season.
By the same token though, players such as Jay Spearing (22), Martin Kelly (21), and Jack Robinson (17) played their parts towards the tail end of last season as Kenny Dalglish took the team to heights that had seemed impossible under Roy Hodgson. You know, like the top half of the table for starters.
But back to the Sunderland match. It’s not just a question of age, but also of familiarity. Liverpool fielded four debutants, and one of them (José Enrique) had only been at the club for one day.
Of the other starting players, the likes of Flanagan (with just seven previous league appearances for Liverpool), Carroll (seven injury plagued or unfit appearances for the Reds) and Suárez (a seemingly unlucky 13 previous appearances, if his penalty is anything to go by) are hardly established in the first team yet either.
So only four of the starting eleven players had more than half a season at Anfield under their belts. You can’t throw a new team together and expect a sparkling performance.
And yet, in their first half at least, that’s exactly what we got. With only minimal extra luck, Liverpool could have been three or four goals to the good at home, against a side playing with ten men. Three points in the bag no question.
In that context, it was a spectacularly good opening 45 minutes to the season, and I believe a foretaste of what is to come from this bunch of hip young gunslingers over the next nine months. Only time will tell, but then time is very much on this team’s side.
Please take a look at my other articles, a list of which can be found here.