Liverpool vs. FC Gomel: Picking the Reds Starting XI Fans Want to See
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Brendan Rodgers took charge of his first match as a Liverpool manager last Thursday with a 1-0 victory over FC Gomel in the Europa League third-round qualifying match, first leg.
A week later—just three days from now—the second leg takes place at Anfield.
Liverpool fans were a little surprised to see the likes of Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson in the team, while other players missed out on the squad entirely.
While the transfer rumour mill continues to churn out stories about players leaving or arriving at the club, fans will be anxious for their favourites to get the nod to play against Gomel for the Reds as a sign of their continuance at the club and availability for the upcoming Premier League season.
Here is the starting XI that Kopites want to see against Gomel.
Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina
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In the absence of Pepe Reina after an extended post-Euro 2012 break, Brad Jones kept goal for the Reds in the first leg against Gomel.
Jones played well, making a few saves and distributing the ball well—but Reina is Liverpool's No.1 and fans want to see him back in competitive action as soon as possible.
Not only that, but with not having appeared for Spain at the Euros and not having played any part in the preseason schedule so far, Reina will be a little short of sharpness and needs the minutes before the new season starts in the league.
Right-Back: Glen Johnson
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Fair to say that Glen Johnson's first 45 minutes of the season, the first half against Gomel, was not his finest run-out in a Liverpool shirt.
His passing and first touch was woefully short of the necessary level, unsurprising given it was his first real involvement with the squad after his summer holiday. Johnson, like others in the squad, need to be treating this match as a preseason friendly as much as a competitive qualifier to get their strength and fitness up to scratch.
With that will come the natural technique that the right-back has in abundance.
Incidentally, this will be Johnson's 100th competitive game for Liverpool.
Left Back: Jose Enrique
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There was a bit of an alternative for this position, which we'll get to later.
For now, though, it is important for Jose Enrique to keep playing, keep working hard and ensure he is in peak physical condition for Liverpool to try and recapture the form which made him a hit at the beginning of his debut season last year.
Jose Enrique's decision-making and execution of passes leave a lot to be desired; he could be considered the first-choice player at the most risk of being replaced in the current team.
Matches like this one will be important for him to regain confidence and trust from the coaching staff, the fans and in himself.
Centre Backs: Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger
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Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher both started the first leg, and both played relatively well for the most part—the latter in his 700th Reds appearance.
For this game, though, Brendan Rodgers should look to switch things around a little.
Liverpool played in a closed-doors friendly this week against Rochdale—with Daniel Agger and Martin Kelly partnered together in central defence. The purpose of the game was to increase the match fitness of certain individuals who had not yet had enough minutes or training under their belt during the offseason.
Rumours continue to circulate surrounding a transfer for Danish centre-back Agger, so perhaps the one player fans want to see in the team more than anyone else is him, especially after not playing in the first leg.
Even if it is just a 45 minute run-out, similar to Johnson last week, fans want to see him in Red—and signing a new contract.
Martin Kelly is in no danger of leaving, but fans have also long wanted to see him get a run-out for the club at centre back, with many feeling that is his position of the future. This second leg—and perhaps the Europa League in general this season—is a great chance for him to showcase his abilities in the position.
Agger and Kelly would complement each other superbly as a partnership and could represent an exciting new phase of the Reds team.
Defensive Midfielder: Lucas Leiva
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Recuperating defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva made his first Reds appearance in seven months against Gomel as a first-leg substitute.
At Anfield for the second leg, Reds fans will be desperate for him to get back in the starting lineup, with defensive midfield arguably the most important position in the team for the building of possession play that Brendan Rodgers wants to implement at Liverpool.
Lucas has figured in a few preseason games and will be hopefully ready to play upwards of an hour against Gomel, though a full 90 minutes may as yet be beyond him.
Central Midfielders: Steven Gerrard and Jonjo Shelvey
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Steven Gerrard had a real shocker in the first leg against Gomel, with his touch, passing and pace all well below the required level.
Thankfully, being the world-beater he still is, it won't be long before the Reds captain is back to his best, and another game started will help him on his way.
Alongside him, Jordan Henderson started the first leg and did marginally better, and will also hope to be involved in the match—but supporters would arguably like to see Jonjo Shelvey involved at this point.
Shelvey really impressed in the American Tour friendly games and was maybe unlucky that he did not figure in the first leg against Gomel.
He should get more first-team opportunities, though, and if the quality continues to improve at the same rate as his application and desire has, then Liverpool have a fine young midfielder on their hands.
Wide Forwards: Stewart Downing and Fabio Borini
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Stewart Downing will be desperately hoping that his goal in the first leg, the winner against Gomel in the 1-0 victory, kickstarts his Liverpool career and shows Brendan Rodgers he can be a threat in the new 4-3-3 system.
Playing closer to goal and able to cut inside onto his left foot when playing from the right, Downing can cross or shoot whenever possible—though both need to continually improve.
He has a tendency to run into dead ends sometimes, but this is a hazard of the wide forwards being asked to attack centrally.
At present, he's the best fit option Liverpool have for the right, so he should continue.
On the left, Joe Cole's injury means Fabio Borini could be switched to the position he will most likely appear in more often this coming season.
Borini works hard, has good movement and knows where the goal is. The Reds were poor in the build-up in the final third in the first leg, but the addition of one or two more players in this zone will help that enormously.
Centre Forward: Andy Carroll
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Like Daniel Agger, Andy Carroll missed out on the first leg through injury, and also like the Dane, has had stories of him leaving Liverpool doing the rounds in the world's media.
Carroll featured in the behind closed doors match this week, as well as Agger, but plenty of Reds fans want him back in the first-team lineup sooner rather than later.
While he admittedly splits opinion because of his original price tag, Carroll has been in the best form of his Reds spell, and many supporters want him given a chance to shine.
It's a bit of a lose-lose situation. Play well and score and the critics will say "it's only Gomel," but if he doesn't do either then "can't even score against Gomel" quickly becomes the mantra of choice.
All Carroll can do if given the chance is work hard, look sharp and score if he gets an opportunity.
From the Bench
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The Reds have a few players they could call upon off the bench, but Liverpool's fans' preferred three at this stage would be Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Jack Robinson—though it could be expected that perhaps Jay Spearing or Charlie Adam will get a run out in place of Lucas Leiva, who might not yet be asked to last an entire 90 minutes of a competitive game.
Robinson has shown plenty of promise in preseason that he could give Jose Enrique a run for his money for the left-back spot, if given a chance. Named on the bench for the first leg, Robinson might benefit from getting an early run-out this season, as he looks to add to his five Reds appearances so far.
Raheem Sterling by now needs no introduction, with the flying winger showing sparks of energy and creativity over the Reds' summer games. Continued first team chances from the bench are a must as Liverpool look to integrate him into the first team, and for Sterling himself to prove he can make things happen to score goals and win games.