Smiles better: Borini celebrates his first-ever Premier League goal for Liverpool, nine months after signing for the Reds
Perhaps the biggest positive to have come out of Liverpool’s recent 6-0 mauling of Newcastle United in the Premier League was the identity of the visitors’ fourth different goalscorer at St James’ Park that afternoon.
Within just two minutes of coming off the substitutes’ bench, striker Fabio Borini had rounded off yet another free-flowing Reds move by poking home a fifth goal for Brendan Rodgers’ side, and what is more, it was the Italian’s first-ever Premier League strike for the Merseysiders, eight months after the player had first arrived at Anfield.
Relief, then, for both Borini and the man who had invested so much faith, as well as his own reputation, in signing the forward from AS Roma on a five-year contract for £10.5 million.
As, make no mistake about it, Rodgers really put his neck on the line to bring the 22-year-old from the Italian capital to Liverpool last summer, especially given the limited financial resources he had at his disposal during the close-season transfer window.
However, the Northern Irishman made it abundantly clear to his bosses in the United States that this was an attacker that he knew and trusted from their time working together briefly while Borini was out on loan at Swansea City in 2011.
And it was Rodgers’ idea to play the Italy international as part of a three-man front line, to the right of central striker Luis Suarez, with almost immediate effect when Borini scored on his very first appearance at Anfield against FC Gomel in a Europa League tie last August.
But, it is fair to say that that was the only real high point of the front man’s early Liverpool career as he then struggled badly to adjust to his new team, before the player’s injury-prone reputation resurfaced when he broke his foot while training with the Italy Under-21s in October.
Not only that, but having then made a successful recovery from that knock it was then less than a month later that Borini was back on the sidelines, this time after suffering a painful-looking dislocated shoulder against his old club, Swansea, in February in what appeared to be a season-ending injury at the time.
And so it is fair to say that Borini’s first season at Liverpool has been a stop-start affair, and one the player himself will probably just want to forget, instead preferring to look ahead to the next campaign in the hope that his luck, both in terms of injuries as well as in front of goal, will somehow change.
As, only one top-flight goal in 11 appearances, and just two all season long in 18 contests in all competitions, is simply just not good enough at this level, debilitating injuries or not, especially when you consider that Aston Villa bought Christian Benteke from Genk last summer for £7m and the Belgian has netted 18 times in 33 Premier League matches to date this campaign.
What is more, it is not as though Borini does not know the way to goal, as last season when playing up front for Roma in the more defensively minded Serie A he scored nine times in just 24 league contests.
So, how exactly can Rodgers and his backroom staff start to extract more goals from Borini, especially in the crucial absence of his fellow attacker Suarez, who will be absent from the Liverpool team for the remaining two games of this season and then for another six fixtures to kick off the next campaign?
Ideally, Rodgers would be looking to use the club’s final two league matches this season, at Fulham on Sunday and then at home to already-relegated Queens Park Rangers seven days later, to experiment up top in order to try and work out where best to utilise Borini at the start of next season, especially with the two games being, in effect, dead rubbers with nothing riding on them.
Borini has made two second-half substitute appearances since his latest comeback from injury, with his first being infinitely more eye-catching than his second against Everton at Anfield on Sunday afternoon.
However, it would be harsh to place too much of a definitive judgement solely on the basis of one 24-minute cameo appearance in the cut and thrust of a tight Merseyside derby, while linking up with a front man who Borini had never played with before.
Equally, the forward himself is going to need to adjust to the pace and tempo of the English game better and learn faster that he is just not going to get the time on the ball that he would were he playing in Italy.
And, perhaps most importantly, Borini will need to sharpen up considerably in front of goal, as that is what the club have shelled out all that money on him for—goals—and preferably more than one in an entire league season.
Consequently, much will now hang on how the player fares in these next eight fixtures that Liverpool take part in without Suarez, as Borini should feature in them all, perhaps even starting them either as an out-and-out strike partner alongside Daniel Sturridge, or more likely as part of Rodgers’ favoured 4-3-3 formation.
If it is the latter, then there will, in essence, be slightly less pressure on the player to score goals, as opposed to him either be stationed as a lone central front man, or as a striker in a 4-4-2 formation for example.
And that could actually suit Borini more, similar to how one-time Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez successfully converted Dirk Kuyt from being a striker to a wide attacking midfield player, because he will need to make himself as adaptable as possible for the Reds next season if he wants to get the maximum amount of game time available.
Is Borini good enough to play for Liverpool?
As, when Suarez does return to the starting lineup in mid-September, there will automatically be one less place up front available for Borini to fight for, and that is before the potential summer arrival of players of the attacking calibre of a Christian Eriksen (via the Daily Mail), say, are even taken into consideration.
Liverpool and Rodgers will be desperately hoping, therefore, that Borini can use the remaining 180 minutes of Premier League action this season to find some attacking rhythm and an eye for goal that the striker can take with him into what is sure to be a defining campaign for both the manager and the player himself, and ultimately the club.