Arbeloa Carragher Skrtel Dossena
Kuyt Gerrard Plessis Benayoun
Agger for Skrtel 46’
Hyypia for Carragher 46’
Ngog for Torres 46’
Darby for Arbeloa 46’
Alonso for Plessis 46’
Nemeth for Keane 59’
Insua for Dossena 59’
Spearing for Gerrard 59’
Reina for Cavalieri
Pennant for Benayoun 72’
Alonso 70’ (pen)
I didn’t end up seeing the whole game until late last evening, so once again this is a bit late. Georger beat me to most of what I have to say in the comments last night, so I’ll make this shorter than usual (I promise, once the season starts, I’ll be better about getting match reviews up).
• This was easily Liverpool’s best preseason performance, and it’s reflected in the scoreline. Benitez sure looks a bit smarter after saying “the goals will come” on the official site Friday. It’s also nice to see that it came hand-in-hand with Liverpool’s strongest team of the preseason. Aside from Cavalieri and Plessis, that’s arguably Liverpool’s best XI.
• But Liverpool played the best in the second half, after the majority of substitutions occurred. Admittedly, it didn’t help that Rangers were a beaten side lacking in confidence by the 60th minute, but to see Liverpool retain possession, continue to create chances, and have players like Alonso and Spearing get forward from central midfield was heartening to say the least.
• Once again, Liverpool played mainly in a 4-4-2, no matter the personnel. Just like last preseason, for what it’s worth.
• It was good to see Torres and Keane paired, and they didn’t disappoint. Keane again looked to bring other players into the attack and showed the intelligence he’s renowned for, while Torres scored a typical poacher’s goal in the 23rd, getting to the ball first after Plessis’ nice long-range effort was parried. Hopefully that'll be the first of many, just like after Torres' first in preseason last year against Shanghai.
• There’s very little to complain about, but I was most impressed with Dossena, Ngog, and Alonso. The Italian had a few nice crosses into the box, but most impressive was how he got back to make a goal-saving tackle in the 45th, preventing Rangers from tallying what looked to be a sure equalizer. Just an absolutely insane piece of defense, although it was aided by Novo dicking around in the box after rounding Cavalieri.
Ngog scored a cracker of a first goal with a left-footed strike from the top of the box after out-working his marker. Of course, I was about to scream at the computer before the goal because the striker had ignored the runs of two players to take the defense on by himself (shades of both Baros and Cisse). However, I’ve got no complaints if he continues to take shots like that. He was more of a threat than against Villareal, and again showed his strength and positional sense (which has been the most reassuring to me).
And Alonso looks to be on form as well. We got to see a lot of the ‘old Xabi:’ getting forward to crack long-distance efforts (that didn’t miss by much), directing traffic, and having a hand in pretty much every build-up. It was his interception and vision that led to Liverpool’s fourth, sliding a pass through to Nemeth that forced Broadfoot into conceding a penalty, which Xabi converted.
• As Georger said, Yossi was also excellent, and will surely be a frequent starter on the left. Like Garcia before him, he provides ‘something different’ (and something very needed) with his cleverness and creatively on the ball and willingness to take on defenders. He will frustrate at times, but in the greater scheme of things, the variety he provides makes it more than worth it.
And again, as Georger wrote, his replacement (Pennant) was shockingly casual. Pennant shows flashes and can still put in a cross, but he can also be a lazy, and sometimes even stupid, player. Those traits had been diminishing in his recent play, but they were on full display for 18 minutes yesterday.
• Mention must be made of Nemeth and the other young players. Nemeth nearly scored with his first touch, and played a big part in both of Liverpool’s goals after he came on. A cross-cum-shot was his first bit of action, and the rebound fell kindly to Benayoun for Liverpool’s third. Ten minutes later, his smart run led to a cast-iron penalty, and it was a bit of shame Alonso didn’t let the youngster take it.
Meanwhile, it’s nice to see players like Insua, Plessis, Spearing and Darby continue to get time in every game, and improvement’s evident in all of their play. Yet another sign of how Rafa's investment in the youth set-up has the potential to pay off in spades. Even if only one or two end up being first-team regulars (and I think it'll be more than that), it'll have been worth it.
• The more Liverpool gels during the preseason, the better the team looks, and the more my hopes are heightened. This team could be very, very good if they continue to settle as they have. Top to bottom, it’s the strongest squad Benitez’s has ever had at Liverpool, and it’s a good mix of players who are hitting their peak or near to it. Carragher, at 30, is two years older than any other regular first-teamer (sorry Sami).
• Two more preseason games, at Valerenga Tuesday and Lazio at Anfield on Friday, before CL qualifying starts in Liege on the 12th or 13th. More of the same, please.