27 July 2007

Liverpool 0-0 Portsmouth

Portsmouth wins 4-2 on penalties

Finnan Hyypia Agger Riise
Pennant Alonso Sissoko Kewell
Kuyt Babel

52’ – Torres for Kewell
65’ – Benayoun for Babel
74’ – Arbeloa for Riise
76’ – Carragher for Agger
82’ – Leiva for Sissoko
85’ – Gerrard for Pennant

Utaka misses; Gerrard scores – 0-1
Taylor scores; Kuyt scores – 1-2
Lualua scores; Torres saved – 2-2
Hreidarsson scores; Benayoun saved – 3-2
Kranjcar scores – 4-2

Well, if Liverpool was going to lose its first game on penalties under Benitez, this was the right place to do it. And if I didn’t know any better, you could have convinced me I was watching a mid-season game between these two Premiership sides.

Admittedly, neither team played as well as they could have, the heat and humidity were obvious impediments, and there were signs that some of the players weren’t completely on the same page. However, in tempo and in the way the game played out, it looked a lot like previous Liverpool/Portsmouth meetings. Liverpool presses, is unable to break Pompey down despite the better chances and more of the possession, and Portsmouth always looks like they could nick an undeserved one, their best chance being on a Gary O’Neill one-on-one after the defense was split far too easily, but Reina was able to make himself big and block the shot at the top of the box. Kuyt was the main example of Liverpool’s wastefulness; he had four decent chances in the first half alone, twice putting it wide or high and twice bringing good saves from David James, but he wasn’t alone.

That full time ended 0-0 isn’t completely out of line with past matches, either. Nor is the fact that Pompey snuck away with a win. Maybe now is a good time to reiterate that yes, this is the preseason.

And since it is the preseason, I’m not too bothered about the result. I am a bit bothered about Liverpool’s inability to break a stubborn team down, which brings back some bad memories of seasons past, although it is the first time it’s happened this preseason. New players (and returning ones – hi Harry) weren’t always on the same page, Gerrard barely made a cameo, fitness levels and match practice weren’t completely up to par, and the conditions exacerbated these problems. But this game came perilously close to déjà vu; I’m sick of hearing about Liverpool's lack of ruthlessness. While writing, I can hear Jason McAteer in the background comparing Liverpool to Arsenal in profligacy and looking for the ‘perfect goal.’ Ugh. David James did have a great game, you know. Which, for some reason, he always seems to do against Liverpool.

Don’t get me wrong. I do think this season will be different, especially after players like Torres, Babel, Kewell, and Kuyt get on the same page. And I was a little surprised not to see Crouch or Voronin come on, but they’ve played the most minutes out of all the strikers in preseason. Plus, I’ve still seen a lot of positives in the past couple of weeks.

Pennant has probably had the best preseason of all Liverpool’s players. He’s continued his good form to close last season and continued to be a threat down Liverpool flanks. He was less effective on the left, where he played for the majority of the second half, but that’s not all that surprising, and it’s something that needs to be worked on (which is what preseason’s for). It’s become obvious that Rafa wants versatility out of his players, especially in attack. We’ve seen it in previous games with Rafa varying the players while keeping a fairly static formation and saw it today with Babel and Kewell switching positions in the first half. Based on what gone on so far, Babel, Kewell, Benayoun, and Pennant all look likely to play in different places throughout the season.

Alonso has also demonstrated why he’s so essential to the team, showing his range of passing and in dictating the flow of the game. While he didn’t continue his trend of scoring stunning free kicks, Riise’s also stood out, covering gaps in defense well while getting forward from left back as usual. The goals haven't hurt his cause, either. And Sissoko, who I fall in and out of love with multiple times in the same game, has put in some very energetic and typical ‘destroyer’ performances. I still think Momo is an offensive liability, and although he was more composed today, I don’t think Liverpool will get enough goals if he plays in every game. But I also don’t think he’ll play every game. There’s a time and place where Momo is very valuable; Barcelona last season is a perfect example of that. The aforementioned Voronin has also been a plus, as he’s been impressive every time he’s played.

I’m not going to jump on, say, Torres, who still hasn’t scored (yawn) and missed his penalty, as he showed his class and cleverness at times and because he’s behind in pre-season training with his ankle knock and lack of international clearance, or Babel, who showed that burst of speed which Liverpool will need, despite not quite linking up well with his teammates, or Kewell, who didn’t show the quality I know he still has or, like Babel, seem to be on the same page as everyone else. It’s preseason, and I’m not wavering in my belief they’ll come around.

Liverpool’s still demonstrated potential, is still to get the new signings fully settled, has picked up no injuries, and is working hard to improve fitness levels, evidenced by the fact that when players were subbed off you could see devices strapped to them that looked like heart rate monitors. Again, that’s what preseason is all about. And as said above, and in all the other reviews, some players have excited. Which is why I’m not that bothered by a loss in the Asia Trophy at the end of July.

Yes, at times, the defense has looked shaky, especially in holding a high line in the offside trap, and yes, for the first time in the preseason, Liverpool were unable to score (and at times were even wasteful), and it was in a game against Premiership opposition. But all the problems are rectifiable things, and I’m still pretty sure it’ll be a different story when we actually get to the season.

The last two preseason games are in the Rotterdam tournament, against Shanghai on August 3rd (12:30pm) and Feyenoord on August 5th (2pm).

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