The sight of Steven Gerrard in an LA Galaxy kit might still look a little weird, but rest assured the Liverpool icon is still very much a former Liverpool player.
The absence of Gerrard’s leadership and his influence around the club has been discussed from pretty much the moment that he set foot on the plane bound for La-La Land, but one of the things which hasn’t is just what Liverpool do with one of their skipper’s main responsibilities: Penalties.
With 47 successful spot kicks, Gerrard is Liverpool’s most successful penalty taker ever, whilst only three of the current squad have ever managed to convert from 12 yards for the Reds, and one of those is the soon-to-be axed Mario Balotelli, who will follow fellow penalty expert Rickie Lambert out of the door.
Gerrard’s penalty-taking prowess was one of most enduring qualities in the Reds’ title challenge of 2013/14, but should they find themselves in another unlikely title race this time around, just who will they be relying on from the spot?
Mark Jones looks at the key contenders:
Christian Benteke – 6 successful Premier League penalties for Aston Villa
Perhaps the most likely taker on reputation and price tag alone, Christian Benteke was the first choice from the spot for Aston Villa and rarely let his side down.
Indeed, the big Belgian was used to handling pressure situations from 12 yards for Villa, and it was his stoppage-time spot-kick against West Brom back in March which kick-started their survival charge under Tim Sherwood and ended a personal scoring drought of 11 Premier League games.
He seemed to grow in confidence from that and would soon embark on the scoring run which helped keep Villa up, and if handing him penalty duties ensures that Liverpool will have a confident and in-form Benteke on their hands then it’ll surely be worth it.
James Milner – 9 successful penalties in his career
The regular penalty-taker at Aston Villa – where he put his side 1-0 up in the 2010 League Cup final against Manchester United at Wembley – James Milner was somewhat further down the list when it came to taking them for Manchester City, largely because of the talent they could boast elsewhere.
Ironically, the only penalty that Milner scored for City was against Liverpool back in 2012, but there is a very strong argument to make him Liverpool’s premier penalty man as he steps into the void left by the departed Gerrard.
Milner is experienced enough to have seen and done it all in English football, and so the prospect of staring down a goalkeeper from 12 yards in front of the Kop end isn’t likely to faze him one bit. This could be a shrewd move.
Jordan Henderson – 1 successful penalty for Liverpool
He’s picked up Gerrard’s captain’s armband so should he pick up his penalty duties as well?
Jordan Henderson scored Liverpool’s most recent successful penalty in the 4-1 drubbing at Arsenal in April, but of the players on the pitch then the only other Reds player who could have picked the ball up was a half-fit Daniel Sturridge.
Henderson, as skipper, took responsibility and rather scuffed an effort into the corner of the net, but despite his pleas to Mario Balotelli to be allowed to take a spot-kick in the Europa League clash with Besiktas in February, he doesn’t really strike you as a true penalty taking powerhouse because of the way he approaches the ball.
Henderson already has so much on his plate as he tries to follow Gerrard, so he shouldn’t be given this extra burden.
Daniel Sturridge – 1 successful penalty for Liverpool, 1 missed
And so what of Daniel Sturridge? He remains something of a forgotten man due to his near chronic injury problems, but the latest reports have him back in around October, and will he expect to be given the responsibility?
Sturridge scored a penalty for Liverpool on an afternoon when almost everyone other than him had found the net in a 5-0 win over Swansea City in 2013, but he missed one when chasing a hat-trick in the 4-0 victory over Everton in January 2014.
Although often cool and composed he often doesn’t give you same impression from 12 yards, and he might be quite far down the queue here, much to his disappointment.
Roberto Firmino – 3 successful penalties for Hoffenheim
Could Roberto Firmino be Liverpool’s surprise ace from 12 yards?
The Brazilian was by no means a regular penalty taker for previous club Hoffenheim, but when called upon he didn’t let his side down and he could be interesting option for Liverpool to utilise.
Goals are going to be a big part of the Brazilian’s settling in process, and although it would be a risk, penalties could help with that.
Danny Ings netted a pressurised late penalty in Burnley’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa last season, but with question marks over just how much game-time he’ll get then you’d suspect he’d be quite low down in Liverpool’s queue, and whilst Adam Lallana is a good striker of the ball he has no penalty record to speak of, with the same going for Philippe Coutinho – although he did net one in a Copa America shootout this summer.
One thing’s for sure, it certainly won’t be Dejan Lovren.
It seems to be between Benteke and Milner for me, and I’d just plump for the extra experience of Milner to be Liverpool’s man from 12 yards.
He might not be able to replace Gerrard in plenty of other ways, but this needn’t be one of them.
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