01 August 2011

Liverpool 3-3 Valerenga

First Half
Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Robinson
Henderson Spearing Adam
Downing Carroll Kuyt

Second Half
Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Robinson
Spearing Adam
Kuyt Henderson Downing
Carroll

Subs:
• 69' – Ngog for Carroll
• 69' – Kelly for Johnson
• 69' – Flanagan for Robinson
• 80' – Sterling for Downing
• 80' – Shelvey for Adam
• 80' – Aquilani for Henderson
• 90+1' – Sama for Agger

Goals:
Strand 14'
Ogude 19' (pen)
Carroll 44'
Agger 82' 88'
Fellah 90+4'

Hey, at least Liverpool didn't lose! And scored three whole times! Of course, they also conceded three for the fifth consecutive preseason match, to the second string of the 11th placed team in Norway, mainly thanks to avoidable errors. And it took until the last ten minutes to get back into the match, thanks to Aquilani's entrance and Agger's threat from corners. Liverpool still failed to score from open play, notching all three from corners, for the third consecutive preseason game.

The fluidity of Kuyt, Downing, Adam, and Henderson – especially in the opening minutes – means the first half formation's nomenclature is up for debate, but I saw it as this:


A lopsided 4-3-3, but a 4-2-2-2 if you consider Adam – who played deeper than Downing – a tucked-in attacking left midfielder. Regardless, it impressed for all of 12 minutes – with Downing's tame left-footed shot after cutting in the lone goal threat – before a cheap concession sent Liverpool reeling. Spearing allowed Valerenga too much time in slicing through midfield before finding Kone, given way too much space by Johnson. The striker easily picked out Strand, who had easily gotten free of Carragher's "marking." More than one scapegoat, just the way we like it.

The second was more on the shoulders of a single culprit. Multiple defenders failed to clear before Charlie Adam rashly dove in on Kone after the chance had gone, giving Ogude the opportunity to notch from the spot.

Liverpool took time in regaining momentum, racking up possession and corners but unable to break Valerenga's deep and narrow back four. It was on the fifth of Liverpool's first half corners when Carroll finally struck: taken short, changing the angle for Downing's swinging cross, just over Agger's head but controlled and volleyed from close range by Carroll. So what if there may have been an incidental arm involved. It's preseason's after all.

The intermission saw the formation revamped, reverting to the more orthodox 4-2-3-1 we've seen most often in preseason. Liverpool continued to set the tempo, but rarely tested Valerenga's substitute keeper. The first round of substitutions changed little, but Liverpool stepped it up a gear in the final 10-15 minutes. Carroll tested Kongshavn with a point-blank downward header in the 78th – his last action of the game and one of three spectacular saves from the youngster before Aquilani's entrance triggered Liverpool's comeback.

The Italian's first action was to thwack a volley that Kongshavn somehow palmed behind. Taking the subsequent corner – Liverpool's eighth – Aquilani's found Agger's head for the equalizer. Another belter five minutes later was barely beaten over, and Aquilani again took the corner, again finding Agger via Kuyt's lucky flick-on. It was a marvelous ten-minute cameo, sure to inspire second, third, and fourth-guessing as to why he's being forced upon whichever Serie A club will give Liverpool an eight-figure sum. I don't understand the Aquilani situation, so I'm not gonna try to explain the Aquilani situation.

Having gotten what appeared to be the winner after struggling for long stretches, Liverpool hurriedly gave away the advantage. With less than a minute of injury time remaining, Fellah out-muscled Flanagan and turned inside past Carragher into space before unleashing an unstoppable equalizer.

Having far more of the first team involved rightly leads to more in-depth analysis, rather than the banal but true 'it's preseason' cliché. That Liverpool continues to concede thanks to sloppy mistakes is an increasingly monstrous concern. Yes, some can be blamed on preseason: Johnson was especially terrible in defense, but it's his first match back. His biggest problem was being caught flat-footed and for pace too often, which is far less likely when at full fitness.

More worrying was Carragher's positioning, although the 176-year old center-back did well to make some needed last-ditch recovery tackles on a couple of occasions. Most worrying is Liverpool's lack of a definitive left back. Robinson didn't do poorly – probably the best defender in the first half – but he's still a wee lad. Claiming Aurelio's made of glass is an insult to glass everywhere. And I'm still not convinced Insua counts. Liverpool's can't go into the season hoping one of the three right backs will be versatile enough to cover. At the same time, Liverpool's defense wasn't helped by Spearing as the sole holding midfielder in the first half's strange formation – if anything, it reinforced just how important Lucas is to the side.

The lack of open play goals, of Carroll not clicking with the midfielders, is also disconcerting, but the point of preseason is to bed him in with the likes of Adam, Henderson, and Downing, as well as the teammates who he rarely played with from Febraury through May. That will come with time. But the defense needs to be fixed before the end of August.

The last preseason game, against Valencia at Anfield, is Saturday. A week before hosting Sunderland.

7 comments:

The Commish said...

Spearing is a nice player - buts its obvious from today that Spearing plus Henderson plus Adam makes for a shitty midfield when we are not in possession. Spearing's lack of class leaves the other two overworked and we were overrun in the midfield whenever we gave up the ball. Lucas will remedy this issue, and Raul will assist as well as I think he's better without the ball than either Henderson or Adam.

I also have Aquilani questions, except I think he lacks energy on defense and he has some apparent market value in Serie A. If we need to cut the wage bill, and given the lack of marketability for Poulsen, Cole, et al., I guess he needs to go...

torkil said...

I'm unimpressed, sadly. The Vålerenga reserve team on the pitch also included four players from their feeder club in Norwegian third division.

Oh, Lars Hirschfeld is 32 and was subbed at half time. The young goalie is named Gudmund Taksdal Kongshavn.

nate said...

Sigh. Embarrassing. Fixed, thanks Torkil.

Thought I'd heard the commentators say that the keeper had been substituted, but LFC.tv didn't have it on its online team-sheet. Not my fault, but still, yeah, my fault.

Marc said...

WOOF. Just finished the DVR-ed game.

I didn't feel Robinson was very good in defense in the first half (seemed reckless and out of position), and certainly in the second almost every single time they took the ball down our left they gashed us open. Could've easily scored 5. I hate to put it down to a single position, and I'm sure Lucas will help, but to me we need to sign a LB or we can stop pretending we're gonna challenge for a damn thing.

Aquilani is outstanding, and watching him blast lasers from outside the box in a #8 jersey made me rub my eyes a few times.

Downing to Carroll's gonna be a classic for us, but I agree with folks who point out that this combo seems to be plans a, b, and c without Suarez. Could use some other options.

I have no idea what Adam's role is. Deep playmaker? Attacking mid? He just seemed to be in a constant state of transition to my eyes in the first half, and I hope that's not the plan for him.

The main takeaway for me was that LB is a crisis, not a concern. Hope FSG/Comolli/Kenny agree and seek a fix ASAP. I hear Newcastle's in full-on collapse if that helps... ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm starting to get worried. I know...it's pre-season, but the defense is leaking goals like the Titanic. The new blood in defense is just that, new. Flano and Kelly have a bright future at Liverpool, but we need some defenders now. I know you're worried about LB, nate, I am too, but what about CB? Oft-injured Agger, the aging Carra, Superman Skrtel, and ... Kyrgiakos.

The young 'uns can fill in to spot any of our defenders, especially if it's just to give someone a break. But if We have injuries in defense (which we all know we will) I can't put a finger on who would be a good long term replacement.

nate said...

Marc,

Seemed to me that most if not all of Valerenga's dangerous attacks came down Liverpool's right in the first half – both the opener and penalty, at least – which is why I credited Robinson and focused on Johnson's troubles. Robinson made the fewest obvious mistakes and still attempted (albeit to less effect than Johnson) to get up and down the touchline.

Agreed on Adam to a certain extent. His role was similar to his role at Blackpool. Sometimes attacking, sometimes deep-lying but always the midfield hub and the player who sees the most of the ball. As I tweeted during the match, I'm becoming increasingly convinced Liverpool will live and die with Adam as Blackpool did. To a lesser extent because of better teammates, but he will continue to be the focal point simply because of his playing style.

Anonymous,

I worry less about CB because of the numbers involved. Liverpool can definitely improve on Skrtel and Carragher (and obviously Kyrgiakos), but behind them are Wilson, Wisdom, Ayala, Kelly who can play 5 or so matches if need be. But at left back, Liverpool are reliant on the broken-down Aurelio, a regressing out-of-favor youngster in Insua, a teenager in Jack Robinson, and three right-backs who can play on the left in a pinch. Much more of a concern.

Abhiram said...

Do you think there's any truth to this?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2021737/Joey-Barton-followed-Jose-Enrique-Newcastle.html