Christian Benteke: Will Belgium striker give Liverpool 'X-factor'?

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Liverpool 1-0 Bournemouth: Christian Benteke was excellent - Brendan Rodgers

Liverpool's principal owner John W Henry arrived at Anfield with reconstruction top of his agenda - on and off the pitch.

Boston-based Henry and Liverpool chairman Tom Werner cast their eyes over the giant steel structure rising at Anfield and a new landmark over Stanley Park as the stadium's new Main Stand takes shape.

It was then time to inspect the rebuilding that has taken place on the pitch after they decided to keep faith with manager Brendan Rodgers after last season's misery, following up this show of faith with an outlay in excess of £80m in the transfer market.

Henry will return to Boston satisfied as Liverpool's 1-0 win over Bournemouth leaves them with six points out of six after victory at Stoke City in the opening game.

Will Benteke provide Liverpool's 'X-factor'?

Liverpool v Bournemouth
Christian Benteke is Liverpool's second most expensive signing, behind Andy Carroll who cost £35m in 2011

Christian Benteke, in every respect, was the biggest symbol of Liverpool's aspiration to recover from their failure to qualify for this season's Champions League when they invested £32.5m to bring the 24-year-old from Aston Villa.

And after a quiet start at Stoke he shone in front of Henry and the Kop on his home debut with the winning goal, albeit one that should never have stood with Philippe Coutinho clearly offside.

To hear Rodgers waxing lyrical about how Benteke won a high ball in the box and created a chance for Coutinho was evidence of the extra dimension he will give Liverpool - and also sounded rather odd from a manager steeped in the passing game.

Rodgers, however, is also pragmatic and knows the Belgium international will give Liverpool a physical presence and target they have never had since he arrived from Swansea City to succeed Kenny Dalglish.

Benteke is much more than that though, showing his power in the air but also considerable control on the ground - as well as the vision to switch play on occasions.

That contentious goal will have brought pleasure too because if there has been a criticism of Benteke it is that he should score more of the poacher's goals. This was one.

It's early days but this was impressive and it will be intriguing to see how Rodgers works his attacking system should England international Daniel Sturridge actually be fit for a length of time.

One thing is certain: while he is expensive at £32.5m, he has the capacity to be a considerable upgrade on the £20m effectively squandered on Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli last summer.

Will Liverpool miss Raheem Sterling?

It is too soon to say what sort of hole the £49m man who joined Manchester City will leave but all sound judges at Anfield believe they will eventually have a more-than-able replacement in 19-year-old Jordon Ibe.

He was quiet on Monday and was replaced by £29m summer signing Roberto Firmino after 70 minutes, but this is a young man with real pace and power, thicker set than the slight Sterling, and huge potential.

Raheem Sterling's Premier League statistics

Of course Liverpool will miss what Sterling used to give them, but he was out of sorts last season and had no desire to stay at the club. It was simply a matter of getting the best price - which Liverpool did.

Ibe is seen as someone who will eventually succeed Sterling and while he did not excel against Bournemouth, there will be good times ahead for him.

Will John W Henry return to the USA a happy man?

Henry will certainly be delighted by Liverpool's two results. Two wins, two clean sheets and maximum points. The performances have hardly been sparkling but this may be as a result of the bedding-in period required by the summer arrivals.

He will have been pleased by Benteke, of course, but he will have also got pleasure from the performances of the other new signings who started.

And that might particularly count for 18-year-old Joe Gomez, the young man who arrived unheralded from Charlton Athletic among the other big names brought in to renew Liverpool.

John W Henry
Liverpool owner John W Henry (left) watched the game with his wife Linda Pizzuti Henry. Actor John Lithgow (right) was among their party

Gomez was expected to be sent out on loan to further his education but such was his form that, not only did he stay, he went straight into the team at Stoke.

Here he delighted Anfield with a performance that mixed composure on the ball with an ability to see danger on the left side of Liverpool's defence.

Nathaniel Clyne, in at £12.5m from Southampton, was also busy at right-back on his home debut, showing his natural attacking intent while also remaining solid in defence and resolute in the tackle.

James Milner did what James Milner does. He was solid without being spectacular but is the player managers can count on every minute of every game - although the less said about a late free-kick that threatened to head off in the direction of the M62 the better.

So yes, Henry will have liked his first look at the new recruits and, like Rodgers, will hope for much more to come.

How far can Liverpool go?

Given Rodgers's heavy outlay the target is clear. He must win a trophy and/or put Liverpool back in the top four. There is no grey area here.

Liverpool's performances will not cause sleepless nights among the title contenders but this must be placed in the context of so many new signings - and let's not forget they have maximum points.

Rodgers is convinced they will improve as they become used to Liverpool's way of working and the likes of Firmino become accustomed to the Premier League.

Bigger questions will be posed by better teams. Will the soft underbelly of Liverpool's defence be exposed again? Next Monday night's trip to Arsenal will reveal more.

At this stage a pre-season prediction of fifth remains sound enough but, after the trauma of a season that ended in abject humiliation with a 6-1 loss at Stoke City, Liverpool have done everything asked of them.

Liverpool's summer business
Players in:Players out:
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa) £32.5m; James Milner (Man City) Free; Danny Ings (Burnley) TBC; Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim) £29m; Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton) £12.5m; Joe Gomez (Charlton) £3.5m; Adam Bogdan (Bolton) FreeRaheem Sterling (Man City) £49m; Glen Johnson (Stoke) Free; Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy) Free; Andre Wisdom (Norwich) Loan; Lloyd Jones (Blackpool) Loan; Jordan Williams (Swindon) Loan; Kevin Stewart (Swindon) Loan; Sebastian Coates (Sunderland) Undisclosed; Brad Jones (Released); Danny Ward (Aberdeen) Loan; Sheyi Ojo (Wolves) Loan; Lawrence Vigouroux (Swindon) Loan


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