Kelly Skrtel Kyrgiakos Agger
Amoo Lucas Spearing Jovanovic
Ngog 18' 58'
Competitive club football, oh how I've missed you. And Liverpool winning. Yeah, I've missed that too.
So, after a comfortable 2-0 away win, maybe Hodgson was publicly downplaying expectations in yesterday's press conference?
Don't get me wrong; a victory in Europa League qualifiers against last year's Macedonian league second-place finishers won't go into the annals of amazing European heroics. But it's a win, and the team looked far better than in either preseason friendly.
After an initial, unsurprising feeling-out period, it was a mistake by Rabotnicki's defense which allowed Ngog to pick up possession behind the backline, sweetly control around the keeper, and slot in. But from there, Liverpool managed proceedings. While Rabotnicki saw more of the ball than expected, the midfield of Lucas and Spearing and the pairing of Kyrgiakos and Skrtel refused to allow them possession anywhere near dangerous territory. I don't think they had a shot inside 25 yards.
Liverpool never dominated as we'd hope against lesser opposition (okay, maybe abysmal opposition), but Liverpool were never going to dominate in late July with this XI, no matter the opposition. There were few chances at goal, but Ngog efficiently took both of his, adding a second 13 minutes after the interval in style, exquisitely sweeping home Kelly's cross with a side-footed volley. From there, Liverpool were content to stifle, poke, and prod, with Darby, Dalla Valle, and Eccleston on as substitutes, and it sees them take a 2-0 lead back to Anfield.
Outside of Ngog's two well-taken goals, there were no standout performers, but it was a good team performance, and that's far more warmly welcomed at this stage of the season. As said above, I was most impressed with the central midfield and defense: Lucas putting in a shift worthy of the armband and Spearing mopping up well, while Skrtel and Kyrgiakos (who, as a Greek, was unsurprisingly jeered by the Macedonians every time he touched the ball) gave no quarter. Kelly and Agger also did well from fullback, especially Kelly's assist and despite Agger looking a bit off the pace after no preseason appearances.
There's obviously room for improvement, but that's to be expected. Adding Agger and Skrtel (in addition to Aquilani, who missed the last friendly) led to a vast improvement on Saturday's performance. I expected more from both Aquilani and Jovanovic, who impressed in flashes but nowhere near consistently enough, but that will come. Amoo showed how speed can kill, but he needs to bulk up and figure out the final ball before he'll truly threaten.
Job done, and a win in Woy's first competitive match. That's absolutely all that could be asked for today.