Degen Carragher Agger Insua
Kuyt Lucas Plessis Babel
Kelly Skrtel San Jose Johnson
El Zhar Mascherano Spearing Babel
Dossena for Skrtel 55’
Arbeloa for El Zhar 58’
Reina for Gulasci 79’
Riera for Babel 80’
Torres for Pacheco 81’
My mantra for preseason football is usually ‘As long as the ideas are right, the execution doesn’t really matter.’ And the result really doesn’t matter. Fitness and form go a long way at the highest level, and both are often lacking after a month or two away from competitive matches. These games are for getting first team players in shape, getting young players time on the pitch, and making money. You can’t get carried away with good performances or awful ones.
Six minutes in, and Liverpool had scored their first goal of the preseason. Babel controlled a wonderful ball over the top from Carragher, similar to his pass to Torres for the goal of last season against Blackburn, and slotted home with his right after he held off one defender and Lucas dragged the other out of position with a smart run.
If you thought the early goal would lead to a high-scoring after, well, you’d forgotten it’s preseason. It was cagey, it was sloppy at times, and chances were few and far between. Babel was through again five minutes later, but was too close to the keeper to get a shot away seconds after the Thais were almost through only to be ruled offside (Cavalieri made the save anyway). The other memorable opportunity came in the 20th from a lovely Lucas diagonal that Babel could only volley wide of the near post.
Babel and Kuyt were involved in almost all of Liverpool’s attacking play throughout the first half, while Lucas and Plessis did well limiting Thai forays forward, with the home side's best chance coming from a free kick sent over the bar in the 37th. Nemeth often popped up and tried to run at defenders, but was frequently over-intricate. Still, it was nice to see him offer a different option.
Unsurprisingly, the second half saw wholesale changes, but Liverpool remained in the 4-4-2. Once again, Johnson was deployed at left back, even with Darby injured and Dossena back in the squad, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. I imagine Benitez is testing his limits, checking his versatility, and encouraging him to work on his weaker foot. Once the season starts, he'll be on the right more often than not.
And unsurprisingly, Liverpool got worse as the second half went on – probably a combination of the elements (oppressive heat then heavy rain) and the changes. And it wasn’t helped by knocks to Skrtel and El Zhar, which prompted more subs – Dossena ended up at left midfield with Babel on the right and Kelly moving into central defense.
Masch forced a save with a vicious shot in the 63rd and Babel headed over a minute later, but Sutee equalized in the 73rd after a lovely one-two through Kelly and San Jose, with Johnson unable to get back.
The rest of the Spanish contingent came on around the 80th, and Torres did more in 10 minutes than most did in 45. He almost broke through the backline multiple times, nearly set up Voronin twice, and wanted to run at every defender in his sightline. Encouraging to say the least.
I was most impressed by the most diligent workers: Kuyt, Carra, and Babel (who has a massive point to prove) in the first half, and Spearing and Torres in the second. Kuyt and Carra never give less than 100 percent, while Babel did many of the things we’d been hoping for – cutting in from the left, running at players, battling for balls, as well as scoring a great goal.
Liverpool may purchase an attacking player for the left, as I assumed earlier in the summer, but it’s looking less and less likely. As Babel got fewer chances as last season progressed, I expected he’d make way. But if he stays, and it seems as if he will, it’s going to be a very, very important season for him. And if he builds the positives from today’s game, he could make a major difference.
Before I criticize any player, I want to reiterate that it’s preseason, but I continue to be thoroughly unimpressed by Degen. Poor decision-making combined with a lack of effort at times won’t endear one to either the manager or the fans. Voronin’s decisions were often questionable as well, but here’s hoping that down to re-entering the rhythm of the club, because it looks like he’ll see time this season. In contrast to what I'm hoping for from Degen.
The knocks to Skrtel and El Zhar worry, but that’s pretty much the only concern. You can always hope for world-beating football, but it’s not likely at this stage. Most of the team looked decent and boosted their fitness levels, it didn’t look like the injuries were major, and a couple of players actually impressed. Young players like Nemeth, Pacheco, Kelly, Spearing, San Jose, and Gulasci all saw time. That’ll do.
The next friendly is against Singapore at 7am Sunday morning. It’ll also be on FSC.