OpinionJohn Aldridge

Liverpool have enough quality to topple poor United outfit

Criminal: Liverpool are not playing to Benteke's strengths
Criminal: Liverpool are not playing to Benteke's strengths

GLOOM descended on Anfield after Liverpool’s 3-0 defeat against West Ham last weekend, but I still believe the squad Brendan Rodgers has assembled is the best the club have had in a long, long time.

Anyone trying to offer up a silver lining was liable to get a slap after watching Dejan Lovren tripping over himself and gifting West Ham goals, as all the momentum built up in the first three games of the season was lost.
Yet now that the dust has settled and next Saturday’s mouthwatering showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford is on the horizon, I’m prepared to sit tight and reserve judgment on this new-look team.
This fixture against United does not need any more hype around the world because this is quite simply the biggest Premier League clash of them all.
The viewing figures for this match confirm that these clubs remain the biggest draws in the English game and so much is at stake in this meeting. The six points the old enemy took off us last season effectively killed off our hopes of getting one of those prized Champions League places, but from what I’ve seen from United, there is nothing to fear from them this season.
United’s defeat at Swansea last weekend was not a major surprise, as they have not been convincing since Louis van Gaal took over as manager.
However, we are already reaching a crunch point for Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers after just five matches, because he doesn’t have too much time to find the right balance in his reshaped side after last season’s nightmares.
Liverpool’s defensive line seemed to have recovered some of its confidence in the first three games of the season, but memories of the 3-1 home defeat against Crystal Palace and the 6-1 drubbing at Stoke in the final games of last season were revived as they crumbled once again last weekend.
Lovren and Martin Skrtel need to keep a clean sheet against United next Saturday, but the defence is clearly not the only area of concern Rodgers needs to address.
When you spend £32m buying Christian Benteke, you have to give the fella the service he needs to cause havoc. 
Well, in the first four games of the season Liverpool have put just 16 crosses into the opposition penalty box, which is the lowest total of any Premier League club. It is criminal that they have acquired one of the most dangerous forward players in the modern game and are not playing to his strengths.
Then there is the mystery surrounding another of the big summer signings, Roberto Firmino.
This Brazilian has shown flashes of inspiration, but I have yet to work out where he is meant to be playing. Is Firmino a wide player, a creative midfielder, a forward? I have no idea and I can only hope that Brendan knows where he wants him to play him long-term, because his role is adding to the confusion right now.
The hope has to be that there is a winning formula to be uncovered in this Liverpool squad, because when I look at the pool of players Rodgers is working with, it’s clear that there is plenty of quality at the club. The challenge will be to blend it together quickly.
There would be no better venue for the pieces of the puzzle to fit into place than at Old Trafford and the reality is that the United game next weekend could be vital to Liverpool’s hopes of a top-four finish this season.
Evidence that United and their Dutch master are increasingly desperate in their bid to get back into trophy contention was provided when they spent £36m signing a teenager most of us had never heard of from Monaco last Tuesday.
If ever a move smacked of a panic buy, then paying out a ridiculous amount of cash to sign Anthony Martial was it. 
Even if the kid turns out to be a great player, there is no way United should have been paying that much to sign a 19-year-old who has barely been tested at the top level. It confirmed once and for all that the football world has gone completely mad.
The best news for United on deadline day was the collapse of the deal for keeper David De Gea to move to Real Madrid, because the continued presence of the keeper that gave them a big step up into the top four last season can only help their cause. 
I wouldn’t be surprised if someone at Old Trafford pulled the plug on the de Gea deal, because they were the big winners from that fiasco.
Hopefully the Spaniard’s first game back for United will end in misery for the Red Devils, but a draw at Old Trafford would be acceptable for Liverpool and I reckon they are good enough to get it.