Club Focus – Liverpool – Inspirational Gerrard Leads Liverpool Past Napoli

Steven Gerrard was Liverpool’s saviour once again last night as he struck a second-half hat-trick to lead the Reds to a 3-1 victory over Italian side Napoli in the Europa League. Roy Hodgson’s side were 1-0 down before their talismanic captain was introduced and he made all the difference.

Although the Europa League may not be Hodgson’s main priority this season, it gives a chance for him to test out fringe players and see how they perform against foreign opposition. Youngster Jonjo Shelvey was particularly impressive in the game and fixtures like these give players like him the ultimate platform to impress the manager and push themselves into contention for a more regular first team place.

The win over Napoli may have been Roy Hodgson’s third consecutive victory, but fans are under no illusions – the Reds are still struggling in the Premier League. The recent good work must continue and performances must continue to improve if they are to build on this recent change in fortunes.

The main talking point on Merseyside has not been about on the field matters though. Instead, a certain Frenchman has been under the spotlight. Damien Comolli, the man formerly in charge of signing players at Spurs, has joined Liverpool as director of football strategy. Comolli will identify and secure the signatures of players he feels would benefit the club. His track record is particularly impressive.

As European scout for Arsenal, Comolli was credited with discovering Gael Clichy, Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure for the Gunners. The former two, still at Arsenal, have been big hits in the capital and have made over 100 appearances for the club each. Toure cost them just £150,000 and was sold to Manchester City seven years later for £16m. A healthy profit.

He also brought Dimitar Berbatov, Gareth Bale, Heurelho Gomes and Luka Modric to Tottenham and, although Berbatov has moved on since (also at a significant profit), the others are still part of a Spurs side who are making their mark in Europe’s elite competition. But Comolli has made some bad signings too, with Darren Bent and David Bentley, both signed for around £15m each, flopping at White Hart Lane. Many would still argue that his hits have far outweighed the misses.

Another issue is the influence of Comolli and the effect it will have. Juande Ramos left Spurs in the relegation zone whilst Comolli was still at the club and both were sacked. At the time of Comolli’s signings, many questioned his ability and eye for players and there seems to have been some friction between himself and the management staff. Although his current role at Anfield is similar to the setup that many European clubs have, it is rarely used in the Premier League. However, with Hodgson signing players such as Konchesky and Poulsen, who are ageing and have not started the season too well, the new owners must have decided to lift the burden off him in terms of signings.

The new appointment will take time to work. Gareth Bale did not become a sensation as soon as he arrived at Spurs under Comolli’s watch; instead it took the Welshman a couple of years to show his true colours. Similarly, any young players signed here will take their time to blossom. For fans of Roy Hodgson, Comolli’s arrival means that the manager will now probably stay at Anfield for some time to come as a new manager may not like to work under the new structure. For Reds fans though, the priority is for Liverpool to beat champions Chelsea at Anfield this weekend, a tough ask but one that would really lift the spirits on Merseyside.

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