Darby Carragher Hobbs Agger Insua
Pennant Plessis Lucas Benayoun
Skrtel Hyypia Agger
Degen Spearing Plessis Aurelio Insua
Gerrard for Plessis 66’
Voronin for Pacheco 66’
Kelly for Agger 77’
Liverpool was announced as a 4-4-1-1, but the formation looked like a 5-4-1 to me, with the fullbacks often getting forward in support, in the first half. Even with five defenders on the pitch, Liverpool rarely had to defend.
For 44 minutes, it looked like the away side was going to go without a goal despite all their good work. Liverpool had all the possession and were creating chances, but Tranmere did well to deny Pacheco much space. That Liverpool only had one forward allowed Tranmere to mark Pacheco with both center-backs, although Pennant, Benayoun and Lucas attacked more as the half went on.
Even without a goal, Benitez would have been pleased with the performance in the first 45. Despite the pressure, Pacheco never looked out of his depth, nearly scoring in the 18th minute after good interplay with Lucas, chipping a shot over an out-of-position Coyne from the right of the box only to see the effort go wide. He almost struck again in the 37th when he latched on to Carragher’s nice ball over the top only for the keeper to make an excellent sprawling save.
Others threatened as well. Insua’s shot from distance (that looked to be on target) was blocked by Chorley in the 28th, while his run down the left and centered ball nearly led to an own goal in the 34th. Following the subsequent corner, Pennant cannoned a shot off the top the crossbar.
But two minutes before halftime, Benayoun got Liverpool’s first goal of 08/09 with a delicious curler from the left side after Hobbs’ shot was blocked and Lucas couldn’t get on the end of it. There’s no way I can do Yossi’s goal justice; it was even better than the screamer he scored against Reading last year.
Even with the chances in the first half, the pace was that of a preseason match. But it dropped even more in the second half, more so after the substitutions.
In fact, although Voronin had a couple of nice touches (and actually could have gotten the second in the final minute, but chose to pass instead of shoot), Liverpool was more threatening when Pacheco was on the field. Tranmere defended with 10 men for long stretches, but began to play better after 75 minutes, and put two headers wide of Cavalieri’s goal in the space of 90 seconds.
There was nothing to be concerned about over the drop in tempo in the second half. It’s the first game of the preseason, and the fact that a good mix of young reserves, new signings and senior players did well together, coupled with a gorgeous goal by Benayoun is an excellent result.
But out of everything, I was happiest to see Dan Agger look like his old self in 77 minutes on the field. There’s a reason I keep writing that Agger was sincerely missed last season. Following today’s performance, it sure looks as if using three center backs has crossed Benitez’s mind.
After everything I wrote since May, Liverpool didn’t use a 4-2-3-1 formation at all. The major tactical similarity between the two halves was wing-backs getting forward at every opportunity. Darby, Insua and Degen all filled this role, although I was surprised to see Degen play so centrally at times. He certainly looked willing to attack though.
Following this match, I’m a bit more upset I won’t be able to catch the next friendly against Lucerne, if there will even be a stream. It sure looks like it’ll be tactically interesting, with Benitez willing to use these friendlies to experiment with the team’s shape. Last year, Liverpool played in a fairly straightforward 4-4-2 no matter the personnel in every preseason game I saw.