Degen Kelly Ayala Darby
Amoo Lucas Spearing Eccleston
Gulasci for Cavalieri 46'
Shelvey for Lucas 62'
Ince for Aquilani 62'
Dalla Valle for Ngog 62'
Palsson for Kelly 70'
Irwin for Degen 70'
Robinson for Amoo 82'
Thankfully, I'm more interested in the formation and fringe players than the actual performance or result when watching preseason friendlies. Although a goal or two certainly wouldn't have hurt, as this was about as yawn-inducing as friendlies can be. Surprise, surprise. It's July, and Liverpool's without all 13 players who took part in the World Cup.
Needless to say, it was a snail-paced game with a smattering of half-chances. Grasshoppers were the marginally stronger side and had the edge in possession, but they were in familiar surroundings and already started their league season last Saturday. Aquilani, Lucas, and Ngog were Liverpool's sole senior players – unless we're being generous and counting Degen and Spearing – and they provided the lone shots in the first half: Aquilani's 18-yard free kick too close to the keeper and Ngog's blast wide on the break when encircled by three defenders.
Amoo's pace posed a few questions after the interval, but his end product left much to be desired, with Spearing's volley over and Eccleston's shot wide the only second half opportunities. As the game went on, what little tempo there was ebbed away, especially after the substitutions – again, unsurprising in a July friendly.
The teamsheet suggested 4-2-3-1 before the match, but Liverpool were assuredly 4-4-1-1 today – the formation Hodgson preferred at Fulham last season – with the wingers deeper and wider than at any time last season. Both Amoo and Eccleston showed glimpses of potential, usually through pace, but neither delivered any decent final balls. Unfortunately, it led to Ngog isolated when on the field, and Liverpool switched to 4-4-2 after the first round of substitutions, with Eccleston joining Dalla Valle as a de facto front-man. But I can't remember the young Finnish striker, who's known for being an in-the-box poacher, getting any touches with the ball bogged down in midfield.
The most impressive feature was Liverpool's defending, with Ayala at the center of absolutely all of it. He was as impressive as could be in a half-hearted training match, combining well with Kelly and ensuring the home side had few opportunities, compensating for Degen frequently caught upfield. Gulasci had less to do than Cavalieri – who had to make one smart block in the first half – but looked very composed for his age. Spearing was his usual combative self in midfield, and Darby did adequately on the left despite both he and Eccleston in front of him being predominantly right-footed. It was nice to see Lucas get the armband, and his replacement Shelvey had some encouraging moments as well.
So what'd we learn? Damned little. Don't sell Ayala – don't even loan Ayala – is about all that's definite, and I'm hopeful that the 4-4-1-1 will look a lot better once the senior players return if Hodgson decides to stick with. Otherwise, it was a nice 90-minute workout in the summer heat with no injuries. Onward and upward... we hope.