On Saturday, August 13, 2011, after a busy summer in the transfer market, Kenny Dalglish’s refreshed Reds began their Premier League campaign with a somewhat frustrating 1-1 draw against Steve Bruce’s Sunderland.
Sebastian Larsson’s superbly taken 57th minute volley cancelled out Luis Suárez’s 12th minute header on a day that would hint at things to come – in more ways than one.
A succession of chance-filled displays would end in draws or defeats for the Merseysiders throughout a league campaign which would see them finish eighth on 52 points.
The four men cutting their competitive Liverpool teeth, meanwhile, all provided reasons to be cheerful.
Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, José Enrique and Jordan Henderson would all have a winners medal by the following February, courtesy of the League Cup Final success over Cardiff City. In the long term, though, these were Reds careers that would head in considerably different directions.
In truth, the more successful two of the four would have the quieter afternoons on that opening Saturday.
Henderson has, of course, become captain of the club in the years since and has lifted each of the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Premier League within the last 15 months.
However, playing against the club whose academy he had graduated from – the one he had left just a couple of months earlier for around £16 million – the 21-year-old made a solid, perhaps tepid start to his time in the north west. Starting on the right flank in a 4-4-2, the running power and infectious enthusiasm that has become so familiar since was still evident, though.
Spanish left-back Enrique’s Anfield career remains tough to summarise. He was a consistent – often superb – performer for Dalglish and then Brendan Rodgers in his first two seasons, before the injuries began to bite.
At first a powerful, pacey presence down the left, he missed the majority of the 2013/14 title tilt with a knee issue and could only manage extremely limited game time in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
After his contract expired in the summer of 2016, having made 99 appearances over the course of five seasons, he left the club. While calling him a club legend or icon would be something of an overstatement, the Spaniard remains a popular figure with the Liverpool support.
A season at Real Zaragoza would be his last as a player before he became a football agent. Since then, though, he has faced a much more serious health challenge.Embed from Getty Images
In May 2018 he was diagnosed with a chordoma, a type of tumour which normally occurs in the base of the skull or in the spinal bones. Enrique’s was actually positioned on the nerve of his left eye. Thankfully, though, after surgery to remove the tumour and several sessions of radiotherapy, he announced in May 2019 that he had been given the all-clear.
Quite the source of perspective, when writing an article assessing footballing performance.
Winding back to August 2011 and, like Henderson, the then 25-year-old put in a sound enough opening display, without necessarily pulling up any early trees. That, in truth, was impressive enough, given his arrival from Newcastle United for a fee of around £6m had only been finalised the previous day.
Without the injuries, it doesn’t feel unreasonable to say he could have been a genuinely excellent long-term full-back for Liverpool.
Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, in contrast, did provide stand-out moments within their competitive Anfield bow.
Adam, who joined from relegated Blackpool for around £7m, provided the assist for Suárez’s headed opener with a devilish inswinging free-kick delivery from the right. The Scot also stung the palms of the Sunderland goalkeeper, future Red Simon Mignolet, with a powerful left-footed drive from all of 40-yards later in the first-half.
The central midfielder probably proved the least successful of the four debutants. In his single season at the club, his range of passing, set-piece delivery and ball-striking all proved notable attributes, but a return of two goals and six assists was undeniably disappointing.
His relative lack of dynamism, compared to some of Liverpool’s other midfield options, was likely a key reason behind Rodgers informing him in the summer of 2012 that he wasn’t part of his plans. He joined Stoke City for a little under £6m that August. The Rangers academy graduate remained in the Potteries until July 2019, when he joined Reading on a free.
While not a success on Merseyside, he was rightly viewed by most as a more than solid Premier League midfielder during his time in the English top-flight.
Downing, finally, provided what was arguably the most memorable Liverpool-based moment on that opening day but, like Adam, never truly fulfilled his potential at Anfield.
Signed from Aston Villa for an eye-watering £20m, in the 34th minute he briefly swapped from the left to the right-wing. A drive inside from his own half took him past several opponents and to the edge of the Sunderland penalty area before he hammered a left-footed shot against the bar.Embed from Getty Images
Ifs, buts and maybes, but perhaps the north-easterner would have settled more easily at Anfield had that flown in?
His first goal wouldn’t arrive until January 6, 2012, when he struck in a 5-1 Anfield FA Cup Third Round win against Oldham Athletic. His first in the Premier League, meanwhile, wouldn’t arrive until December of that year, in a 4-0 home victory over Fulham.
Attributes such as his pace and the quality of his left-foot were still evident with relative regularity prior to his £5m move to West Ham United in the summer of 2013 but a lack of consistency, paired with some poor finishing by teammates from some of his inviting deliveries, meant his numbers never reached the required levels.
After two years in east London he returned to boyhood club Middlesbrough in the summer of 2015. He remained on Teesside until July 2019, when he joined Blackburn Rovers.
As much as this way just one day from a distinctly different era for Liverpool, it certainly offers a significant reminder that first impressions, while important, are often trumped by patience in a footballing context.
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