Finnan Carragher Paletta Arbeloa
Benayoun Gerrard Hobbs Babel
Arbeloa Paletta Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Hobbs Benayoun
62’ – El Zhar for Benayoun
70‘ – Darby for Arbeloa
Gerrard 45’; Agger 72’
Well, that was a far more typical preseason game.
Until the 45th minute there was very, very little to write home about. Outside of the fact that it was a droll, tepid half and until Gerrard scored right before the halftime whistle, the main thing that stood out was the way that Liverpool rotated the strikers and wingers, which I’m pretty sure foreshadows what Benitez will try and do this season.
To begin the game, Babel and Benayoun lined up on the left and right flanks respectively. By the 15th minute they had switched flanks, and 20 or so minutes after that, Kuyt went out wide right while Babel moved into the middle. None of the changes made much difference, though; the game was played at a canter, the midfield was congested, no one could keep possession, and no one could seemingly get anything going, although it’s worth noting that Auxerre played a lot tighter than Bremen did.
That is, no one could get anything going until Gerrard made a typical drive from midfield with the half near its end. Finnan cut in well from the middle, played a lovely throughball that Babel dummied, and Gerrard strode onto it to slot it past the keeper with his “weaker” left foot. It was a moment out of the ordinary for the half, but one very much characteristic of both Gerrard and Liverpool.
Other than that, few things stood out. I thought Yossi Benayoun worked hard and made himself available on either side, Kuyt showed his typical work-rate despite the pace of the match, and new keeper Nikolai Mihaylov made a few decent saves and didn’t look too far out of his depth, although it was a slow-paced preseason game.
There were a couple of dismaying points as well. We finally got a letdown after Voronin’s first two games, as he was nearly invisible throughout the first half, while Babel was disappointing as well, giving the ball away easily and not looking very threatening when playing on the right.
Liverpool made less changes at the half than had been the norm, with Mihaylov, Paletta, Hobbs, Benayoun, and Arbeloa (moving to RB) staying on, and the story remained the same. Not much in the way of tempo or creativity, a solitary goal, and few bright spots or notable moments.
Liverpool’s second goal of the match came from an Agger header from a corner, which would be heartening given Liverpool’s performance on corners in the past, but Agger was completely wide open thanks to some terrible marking, although the free header was well-placed to beat the keeper. Auxerre rarely looked like replying either before or after the second goal, although their striker Maoulida, who was probably their best player, missed an absolute sitter of a header in the 67th minute.
Like the first half, very few put in performances that stood out, mainly thanks to the pace of the game, plus that I imagine a fair few were holding back given the long trip to China next week and that fitness levels are still low this early in the preseason. Mihaylov continued his respectable performance, despite a couple of spills, given that it was his first Liverpool match, even if he didn’t have much to do. Riise did well to track back, especially in covering the center, when other players were caught out of position. Pennant also put in what’s become a usual good performance, trying to beat his man and get to the byline, while also putting in some decent crosses.
But it was El Zhar, who came on for Benayoun on the left in the 62nd minute, who stood out the most for me. I have to admit, I wasn’t very impressed by his performance against Bremen; to me, he was one of the few who were taking the game at a walking pace and wasn’t involved nearly as much as he should have been. Today was in complete contrast to that; while everyone else around him was playing the game at a trot, El Zhar was active, provided the corner for Agger’s goal, tried to beat his man down the flank, and tried to make things happen. He was unlucky not to score when his Garcia-esque header towards the top corner was saved, and in fact, in my most generous moments, I’d say El Zhar reminded me of Garcia in more ways than just that one header.
And I certainly can’t go without a mention of Liverpool’s record signing, who played the entire second half partnering Crouch up top. Torres had some good movement, got out wide on both the left and right to try and provide assists, and probably should have scored his first goal for Liverpool in the 90th minute, where like against Bremen, the keeper did well to come off his line, close down the angle, and make himself big. But he also played in pace with the rest of the match; Torres, like Babel, Voronin, Crouch, and many others, looked tired following the week in Switzerland and probably training this morning before today’s match.
All in all, it was a decent workout to improve fitness levels, more time for new and young players to learn the other’s movements, and no injuries, if nothing special. Basically, it’s what preseason is all about, a glorified training session. Hopefully, and this is what’s most important, Rafa’s learned more about his possibilities for the upcoming season. Which, as Ian Connor, Nigel Spackman, and the rest of the Setanta crew reminded us, starts on August 11th at Aston Villa live on Setanta. It was almost as if they were promoting Beckham coming to the US or something.
The next friendly, against a South China XI, is Tuesday at 8:15am on (you guessed it!) Setanta.