By Sean Hartnett
Joe Cole made his Liverpool debut on Sunday, taking part in their friendly against German side Borussia Mönchengladbach. Two weeks later, he will play his first competitive match for the club at Anfield as the Reds open their Premier League campaign against Arsenal.
Liverpool supporters around the world have pinned their hopes on Cole giving their club the extra dimension in their attack to sustain a genuine title challenge. Since Fernando Torres’ arrival, the Reds have been too reliant on their Spanish ace and inspirational captain Steven Gerrard to provide goals and creativity.
With the pair staying at the club and the addition of Cole, Liverpool now have an attack that can rival some of the top clubs in Europe. Just ask Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben who spent three seasons playing alongside Cole at Chelsea:
“With a front three of Gerrard, Torres, and Cole I think Liverpool will be a real force in the Premier League,” Robben told the Daily Star. Last year was a freak year, but if those three click I can see them seriously challenging for the title. You look at those as a front three and you struggle to find a better front three in Europe—and I include Barcelona’s in that”.
Liverpool fans don’t need any reminding that 1990 was the last time the club won the English top division. Even in the 2008-09 season in which the Reds finished just four points off champions Manchester United, their victories were mostly hard-fought and failed to put away weaker teams. That season Liverpool would spend most matches deep in the opposition’s half, having the majority of possession but failed to break down their opponents’ defense. Since their last domestic league title, they had their share of fantastic strikers like Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen, and most recently Torres but have lacked genuinely skillful, creative midfielders needed to bring the title back to Anfield. Back then in 1990, Liverpool had the brilliant attacking trio of Ian Rush, John Barnes and Peter Beardsley. They now may have a threesome capable of producing similar magic.
Throughout the Gérard Houllier era, Liverpool were too reliant on Gerrard and Owen. When Harry Kewell signed from Leeds in 2003, many thought that he was the missing piece needed to win the Premier League. Persistent injuries dogged the Australian during his difficult Anfield tenure and rarely showed the ability he had previously at Leeds. In the summer of 2008, Irish striker Robbie Keane completed a £19 million move to the Reds. Again, Liverpool supporters thought they finally had a trio in Gerrard, Torres and Keane worthy of winning the title. His time at Anfield was short-lived as Keane had trouble fitting in tactically under Rafael Benítez and was sold back to Tottenham after just six months.
Opposing fans may point to Keane’s example why Cole may not make it at Liverpool but the situations are quite different. Cole has joined on a free transfer and doesn’t carry the burden of justifying a massive price tag. At times, Keane looked over-awed playing for the club he supported as boy whereas Cole is a cool customer who knows what it takes to deliver the Premier League title based upon his role in doing so three times at Chelsea.
For Liverpool to win the title, they need a third man to take some of the load off of Torres and Gerrard. Cole is expected to play centrally behind Torres and will be used as the “link-man” as Gerrard will feed him passes from a deeper position. His superb dribbling and technique should open up space for Torres to operate, creating channels for the striker to run through as defenders will push forward to mark him.
At Chelsea, Cole was forced out on the wings but at Liverpool Hodgson will allow him to have more an impact in this role as he will be able to have more chances to slide through passes and increased shooting opportunities. He will be given more freedom than ever to operate and at 28, may actually produce the best football of his career.
The Reds may have finally found the trio in Torres, Gerrard, and Cole that could put on displays reminiscent of Rush, Barnes and Beardsley days when Liverpool last tasted league title glory.