Finnan Paletta Hyypia Riise
Pennant Gerrard Hobbs El Zhar
Darby Carragher Agger Arbeloa
Benayoun Alonso Sissoko El Zhar
64’ - Torres for Voronin
73’ - Babel for El Zhar
Voronin 4’, 61’; Riise 14’
Schindler 7’; Almeida 84’
Once again, we saw the extent of Liverpool’s possibilities, with nearly two different teams lining up in each half. And they were some tantalizing possibilities on display. The big storyline is that contrary to expectations, Torres, Babel, and Benayoun all got a run-out in the second half, and while it’s still very, very early (that’s a mantra that I’m going to be repeating all preseason), all three had moments that left me very hopeful.
For a preseason outing, the game sure got going right away. Within 20 seconds, Gerrard had delivered a crunching tackle. 4 minutes in, Voronin smartly intercepted a hospital pass along the backline, rounded the charging keeper, and slotted home for his first Liverpool goal. Three minutes later, Schindler had equalized for Bremen, and seven minutes after that, Riise replied with a trademark rocket of a free kick (reminiscent of that special one against United in 2001) that Weise got hands to and still couldn’t keep out.
There was no way either team was going to keep up that pace, and both actually began to behave as if they were playing an early preseason match. However, there was still much that caught the eye, both good and, yes, bad.
First off, as I said, much of the post-match talk will center on Torres, Babel, and Benayoun, and after the money spent, that’s not surprising. But it was Voronin who really caught my eye. He was one of those lauded after Saturday’s game, and today did nothing to dissuade that. Aside from the two goals, he popped up all over Bremen’s half, looked threatening, and linked up well with Pennant, Gerrard and Crouch. He‘s clever and he’s strong, two great traits in a striker, especially one who’s considered the 4th striker and cost nothing in transfer fees, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he catches a few people by surprise this season.
Pennant was the other who stood out in the first half. He made himself available, covered a ton of ground, looked to get to the byline on both flanks, and was involved in nearly every attack. He was partly at fault for Bremen’s first goal with a ton of open space on Liverpool’s right, but he did try to get back down the flank to try to close down the winger after both he and Finnan got caught upfield, and was unlucky to see the cross deflect off him to fall right to the Bremen striker.
But that goal also showed one of Liverpool’s main flaws in today’s game: they could be caught exposed, usually trying to pull off the offside trap. Maybe it was down to the fact that the defense was a bit different than usual in both halves, maybe it was due to missing Reina’s presence in goal, or maybe it’s just the preseason, but it was atypical. It happened again late in the second half, when the substitute Loring found space on the right and found Hugo Almeida, who in scoring saved Stephen Darby from an own goal in his first team debut. Really, no defender stood out as poor, and Hyypia and Arbeloa were actually quite good, but still. Nonetheless, having seen Liverpool play Benitez’s offside trap over the last three seasons, I can’t say I’m that worried.
The second half was even more encouraging. The pace remained standard for a mid-July match, but Liverpool was even less under threat for the majority of the half, despite one moment of insanity where Bremen looked to have scored a fluky second in the 71st minute, only to have it rightly chalked off 4 minutes later (was Graham Poll the 4th official?). Regardless of that “goal,” and the actual second that Bremen ended up scoring, Liverpool was still dominant. Alonso and Sissoko, Sissoko especially, ate up everything in the middle of the park. Kuyt combined well with Voronin, although I was surprised to see that Kuyt was the one who played deeper in the pairing. Voronin’s second goal was even better than his first, with a great shot from a tight angle that he curled around the keeper after getting into space. And, yes, there were Torres, Babel, and Benayoun.
With Torres’ ankle knock, and Babel and Benayoun supposedly to get their first outings against Auxerre on Friday as they signed less than a week ago, it was surprising to see all three play. But I'm sure glad that all three did. All had chances for a dream debut, none could get that goal, but there certainly was nothing to be disappointed about either.
In Fernando Torres, Liverpool looks to have finally bought a truly game-changing player. He’ll be questioned until he does it in the Premiership, and rightfully so, but his class was on display with some jaw-dropping moments. Out of the three new big names, he was the most impressive and came the closest to scoring. There were a couple of moments that stood out for me, once where he worked incredibly hard to earn a free kick out of nothing and a couple of cheeky backheels that just barely missed finding their intended target, and his unselfishness was demonstrated in trying to set up both Kuyt and Babel at times as well. In the dying minutes of the match, he was twice unlucky not to score, once when Kuyt’s dipping shot was parried and Torres was the first to get there, only to see the keeper get in place to make an excellent save, and when he just chipped wide seconds later, lucky to even get a shot off under pressure from the center back and keeper.
Babel and Benayoun showed glimpses too. Both had moments where they linked up well with teammates and looked dangerous, and both will probably have key roles to play this season. Benayoun showed that he’ll be more than serviceable on the right wing and didn't seemed out of place at all, although we know he’ll be able to fill more than just that position. I’m still a little hesitant over Babel, who’s young and will have to improve to fulfill his potential in the Premiership, but the potential is clearly there, and there was one moment where you saw just how good he could be. Some very fancy footwork at the top of the box, when he was surrounded by defenders, gave him space for a shot out of complete nothing, even though it unfortunately ended up to be a tame effort.
I’ve said it far too many times already, but I feel the need to continue to hedge my bets. This is still the preseason, and a friendly game in Switzerland against an under-strength and demonstrably tired Werder Bremen is far different than, say, Goodison in October or Old Trafford in March. But I’m really pleased with today’s performance, despite the few flaws and despite the date. I’m probably going to jinx it, and maybe it’s just a symptom of the money spent or the fact that thanks to this blog I’m thinking about Liverpool more than ever, but I can truly say I’m looking forward to and more hopeful about this season than anytime this decade. And I was pretty hopeful to start last season.
The next match is Auxerre, 9am EST Friday morning, and it’s on Setanta. Again.