Johnson Carragher Ayala Insua
Kuyt Gerrard Benayoun
San Jose for Carra 16’
Babel for Kuyt 61’
Kelly for Johnson 74’
Spearing for Mascherano 79’
Voronin for Benayoun 79’
Ngog for Torres 82’
Good riddance to these friendlies.
I had to frequently stop and remind myself that it’s still preseason while watching. It was basically the first XI and will probably be the team that starts against Spurs outside of Ayala. It was full-blooded and end-to-end at times, especially in the first half. There weren’t a raft of second-half changes, unlike in previous friendlies, even for Atletico, who are two weeks behind Liverpool in preseason preparation.
News flash: Liverpool’s isn’t as good when they’re missing the top three center backs, and Atletico has the class to exploit it in Forlan and Aguero,
Carra limping off in the 13th was the key. As always with preseason injuries, I’m nervous even after Rafa’s pronouncement that he’ll be fine for Spurs. And while Carragher was receiving treatment, Lopez (Kuyt’s man) got down Liverpool’s right and delivered a cross for Aguero (who had peeled away from Ayala) to head in.
San Jose replaced Carragher immediately after, and Liverpool had something like four chances to score in the next 15 minutes, including what appeared to be a stone penalty on Torres in the 21st. No such luck, and Atleti punished in the 33rd when the defense was caught at sea, Simao’s backheel found Forlan in space, and the striker hammered a superlative shot from outside the box. A minute later, Torres blasted a thumper off the inside of the near post. Liverpool had the superiority in possession and chances, but were punished by two excellent strikes by two excellent strikers. It happens. Best to get it out of the system now.
Liverpool were better in the second half, fitter than the opposition at this stage of the season, and it showed in the amount of possession. But the team still found it tough to make the break through, with the final touch often astray and Asenjo resilient in goal.
Still, a draw would have been a fair result after Lucas pulled one back in the 81st, beating the offside trap to reach Gerrard’s throughball and slot under the keeper, and Dowd ignored another clear penalty, when Lucas was barged over after getting into the box in the 85th.
So, despite the scoreline, and despite goals again being hard to come by, I’m fine with today’s performance. Days like today can happen when two inexperienced defenders are up against strikers like those, and that Atletico saw fewer scoring chances as the game went on is encouraging. In addition, I thought Kelly again played well at right back, and deserves to be the second-string back-up behind Johnson.
The announcer repeatedly mentioned that Rafa wrote Lucas has been the best player in preseason in the match program, and the Brazilian kept it up today. The more time he spends in the first team, the more comfortable he’s going to be when making those pass-and-move forays forward, with Gerrard sometimes coming deeper to start the attack, and the formation will look more and more like a 4-1-4-1 in attack. And I’m still under the impression Aquilani will play similarly.
As today proved, that style of play can lead to more congestion in the middle unless the fullbacks provide width in attack, and as the team gets acclimated, we’re likely to see games like today’s, where the end product is lacking. There’s an additional excuse for today, as it’s preseason, but I’m still nervous about the goal return for the first few weeks.
Hopefully, having both Gerrard and Torres fit for more than 12 league games this year will make up for it. Spurs in eight days.