On two separate occasions last summer, Liverpool accepted bids reportedly over £10m for the transfer of Fabio Borini. First Sunderland was rebuffed, then QPR on deadline day, with the player opting to stay on Merseyside to prove his worth. Opportunities have come in fits and starts, with Brendan Rodgers unconvinced by the player he brought into the club as his first transfer after his appointment in the summer of 2012. The player once again asserted his intent to stay through the current window, and with injuries and form leaving Liverpool short of options up front, Rodgers has finally turned to Borini in consecutive league matches.
He failed to convert a chance against his former loan club last weekend, hitting only the side netting after Emre Can played him in with a lovely through ball, but the 23-year-old made no such mistake yesterday in giving Liverpool the lead. It wasn't a perfect performance by any stretch, with plenty of other chances wasted, but his goal eventually held up to give Rodgers' side their third consecutive away win.
Since shifting to the right side of a three-man back line, a regular feature of Emre Can's play has been probing passes to spring a Liverpool attack. As mentioned above, it was his ball last week that created a chance for Borini, and he's regularly looked to push play upfield with a range of passing that was previously lacking from the back. Where Dejan Lovren launched long aerial passes upfield with little accuracy or effectiveness, Can has managed to keep the ball on the deck when possible, and has been plenty accurate as well. This wasn't a pass to completely break open the Villa defense, but he identifies Markovic isolated one-on-one with Aly Cissokho, and gives the converted wingback a chance to take on the former Liverpool fullback on the right.
Markovic doesn't have too many options other than to take Cissokho on, with Raheem Sterling effectively surrounded and Fabio Borini, just off-frame to the left, marked by Jores Okore. The young Serbian has proven dangerous at times in recent weeks, but here he can't do much with what he's given and few options available.
Good bit of defending from Cissokho here to stifle Markovic and force a throw-in rather than left him in behind. For all his faults last season, the Valencia loanee was mostly solid defensively. Going forward was always the problem, with a poor first-touch and teammates that clearly didn't trust him in the buildup. Still, smart work to pin Markovic to the sideline.
From the resulting throw-in, Sterling plays it immediately back to Markovic, who waits a beat before clipping a pass to an onrushing Jordan Henderson. As Chuck has repeated time and again over the past few months, Markovic's touch and technique are superb, and that's on full display here as it was later when he lofted a cross into the path of Coutinho, who headed tamely at Brad Guzan. Here he hits Henderson in stride, and the vice-captain has enough space to send in a cross.
That he has space and time doesn't mean it's easy by any stretch, as there's no less than three Villa defenders between Henderson and Borini. His control wasn't perfect but the contact on the cross was, and it will wrap around each of the defenders in question, requiring smart anticipation and movement from Borini to get on the end of it if the cross is successful.
It's an indictment of the Villa back line that Borini is so far past them at this point, as Henderson wasn't ever going to anything but cross. Okore just plain loses track of Borini, who darted in behind expecting a cross into the space between Villa's rooted back line and Guzan in goal. Henderson's cross is inch-perfect, and the finish from Borini is excellent.
After so long without a league goal from an identified striker, two yesterday seemed like an avalanche. Rickie Lambert's was wonderful in its own right, but Borini's provided a glimpse of the qualities that make each of those involved so dangerous going forward. From Can identifying Markovic to start the move to Borini volleying it past Guzan, it was an excellent opening goal, and one that was deserving of holding up as the match winner.
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