Benteke breaks the ice

Christian Benteke (right), in action against Swindon, could be the answer to Liverpool's problem of scoring only 52 goals in the EPL last term.
Christian Benteke (right), in action against Swindon, could be the answer to Liverpool's problem of scoring only 52 goals in the EPL last term.PHOTO: REUTERS

Wonder goal endears striker to fans in first game for Reds, Firmino also catches the eye

LONDON • It was one of those moments that make a football fan either stand up from his chair or fall back into it, and for Christian Benteke the perfect way to mark his first appearance for Liverpool.

Shortly after half-time, and finding himself just outside Swindon's area, the striker collected a pass on his chest. And with the ball in mid- air, he thundered a right-foot volley into the top corner of the net.

Pre-season or not, it was some goal and some way for the £32.5 million (S$70 million) man to introduce himself to a new set of fans.

Certainly, the away contingent were delighted with the goal. For Benteke, there may have been a sense of relief given how this contest had gone for him to that point.

The Belgian's display against the third-tier side - his first meaningful football of the summer having been the subject of a drawn-out transfer from Aston Villa - had been scratchy .

There was a very first touch that was miscontrolled, then a failure to read a cross, before a shot from close range that was struck too close to the opposition goalkeeper, Lawrence Vigouroux.

"What a waste of money" came the chant from the home supporters on Sunday.

They could look on only in shock and awe, however, when Benteke collected Joao Teixeira's stabbed pass on 48 minutes.

And with a swing of his right boot, he showed in part why Liverpool decided to make the 24-year-old the second-most expensive signing in their history.

"You won't see too many better goals - that was top-level technique," said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers after watching his side see off the League One outfit 2-1.

"Overall, he looked fairly sharp considering. He's a real presence for us. I was impressed by him."

Rodgers also had warm words for Roberto Firmino, the other of Liverpool's major summer acquisitions making a first appearance.

The Brazilian was signed from Hoffenheim for £29 million in mid-June. He has had to wait until now to show what he can do having been involved at the Copa America.

Initially positioned on the left of a three-man attack, with Lazar Markovic on the right and Benteke the central striker, Firmino had the licence to roam.

The 23-year-old did just that. He consistently moved across and through Swindon's defence during the first half, living up to the reputation he built in the Bundesliga as an energetic and creative presence.

"You can see he (Firmino) wants to create and he has a wonderful touch," said Rodgers. "Whenever we were in and around the box, he looked a threat. And he wants to work hard. I was pleased with him."

Benteke and Firmino were taken off after 69 minutes. It is now to be seen if they again feature from the start when Liverpool begin their Premier League campaign away to Stoke on Sunday.

"Always nice to start with a win and a goal looking forward to the season," the Belgian tweeted.

If Liverpool are to improve on last season's sixth-place finish, the most obvious change needs to be in the number of goals scored.

A total of 52 was a poor return.

Even before losing England forward Raheem Sterling to Manchester City, Rodgers made the recruitment of attacking players his priority, knowing that injury-prone striker Daniel Sturridge will miss the opening months of the season.

He has also signed Danny Ings from Burnley and recalled Divock Origi from a season-long loan at French club Lille.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 04, 2015, with the headline 'BENTEKE BREAKS THE ICE'. Print Edition | Subscribe