Liverpool head into this weekend’s clash with Manchester United short of their best player in what, in modern times, has become the game’s most important position. Philippe Coutinho is suspended for the short trip to Manchester after a pair of bookings saw him walk in the 3-0 home defeat to West Ham.
That wasn’t exactly ideal preparation for a clash with the Merseysiders’ most bitter of rivals but a loss for United in Wales will have been of some comfort. Brendan Rodgers now faces the rather big decision of who to play in place of the Brazilian maestro. There has been talk of a return for Daniel Sturridge but this game is sure to come far too early for the England frontman, and the Reds must find a way of getting players around Christian Benteke. They cannot afford to leave the Belgian isolated at Old Trafford.
The answer then, has to be Danny Ings. Divock Origi looked far from the player the club expects him to become in pre-season and is not suited to playing off a number nine. Ings has already leapfrogged the youngster in the striking ranks and earned the right to play his part in one of football’s biggest rivalries on Saturday evening.
The former Burnley attacker arrived at Anfield in the summer and was expected to slot in as the club’s third or even fourth choice striker. However, the 23-year-old has much more to his game than leading the line. Ings can operate anywhere in the forward line, including off a lone striker such as Benteke.
When at Turf Moor the ex-Bournemouth striker thrived playing off the knockdowns and presence of Sam Vokes, and the link-up between the two should be something that Brendan Rodgers takes into consideration when selecting his starting XI this weekend.
His most-talked about attribute is his work-rate, and that is not something that should be brushed aside. A desire to run and labour for his team-mates will be a massive weapon in this game. He will endeavour to stay close to Benteke, as well as dragging the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin out of position with his diagonal runs, creating space for the likes of Roberto Firmino, Benteke and Adam Lallana (should he return) to exploit.
He’s not a man to shirk his defensive responsibilities either. Ings won’t give United’s two deep-lying midfielders time on the ball. He will do all in his power to ensure that every pass they make is a rushed one, and he can play a key role in scuppering Louis van Gaal’s desire to dominate the game with those two midfield pivots.
The Liverpool number 28 also has the capability to drop into the hole and pick a pass. With Benteke the sort of striker who likes to get in behind, having a player in that role who can lay on assists (Ings got four for Burnley last season, despite being their only real goal threat) can only be of benefit to Rodgers’ side.
The most obvious benefit of adding Ings into the mix is the fact he knows where the net is. He has a keen eye for goal, having scored at every level he has played at, including notching double figures in a Clarets side that created very little last term. If he gets a chance at the Theatre of Dreams, expect him to take it as he did for Burnley in the previous campaign.
To go with a compact midfield three and leave Benteke to plough a lone furrow would be to show Manchester United far too much respect. Louis van Gaal’s men have failed to dazzle in any Premier League matches this term, and when their defensive unit was finally asked a question at Swansea, the response wasn’t too clever. Benteke can dominate Daley Blind, much as Bafetimibi Gomis did two weeks ago and paired with Ings they will be a real handful for the United rearguard.
Liverpool should go to Old Trafford in a positive manner and that should include the selection of Ings. Many scoffed at his acquisition, but if used correctly supporters will see that the Winchester-born man can be more than a squad player this season.