29 July 2010

Liverpool 2-0 Rabotnicki

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.


yowie said...

are we allowed to be a slight bit optimistic now?

keith.cygan said...

For those that saw the game -- how did Liverpool look from a tactical perspective? More specifically -- how far forward are the outside midfielders playing? Is Aquilani mainly trying to link the midfield to N'Gog, or has he had a lot of freedom to move around and make various runs? Also -- how involved have the outside backs been in the attack?

I know that the answers to these questions are subject to change once the 'big guns' return, so perhaps the more important question is -- what are the tactical expectations for Hodgson during the season? In particular, I've been thinking about how he's going to fit both Gerrard and Aquilani in together. From the little I've seen of Aquilani, he seems much more comfortable in the middle of the field, and as such I think trying to play him out wide is a non-starter. He also didn't look all that great defensively. If these observations are correct, his best spot seems to be in that trequartistsa spot.

But isn't that the same spot that folks generally like Gerrard? So then I thought about a 4-2-3-1, where Gerrard plays deeper with a true holding/defensive mid (hopefully Masch). The key is that he is given freedom to get forward as much as possible. I like this quite a bit because it seems to be a spot where he can make a big impact. My only concern is that at 30, it might be unfair to ask Gerrard to play such a vigorous role.


steven. said...

people can hate on Ngog as much as they want but despite the inferior opposition today you can see the improvements .. give him some time in the team and experience on the pitch and we're going to have a decent striker on our hands ..

nate said...


Hmmm. That many questions, I didn't do my job well enough.

First, Amoo and Jovanovic played fairly far forward; I could have drawn it up as 4-2-3-1, and the BBC (and probably others) described Liverpool as having "3 forwards." The latter's definitely pushing it, but it was flexible, and it goes to show how numbers/typing static formations doesn't tell the whole story. Which might have been part of the reason why Hodgson was shirty when asked about formations in yesterday's press conference.

Aquilani seemed to drop deeper as the game went on, mostly because he had little joy further up the pitch, and went closer to Lucas and Spearing to try to create more in midfield. He needs to be more involved in the build-up, and wants the ball at his feet as much as possible to pass and move. Which leads me to believe Liverpool might be best with a "midfield" of:

Lucas Aquilani

which can easily switch to

Gerrard Aquilani

depending on the opposition.

It's impossible to tell until we see the big guns back, specifically Gerrard and Cole. With what Hodgson's said, Cole seems almost guaranteed a starting spot, and he can play behind the striker in the 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 in addition to either flank. Which could lead to a central midfield of Lucas/Gerrard or Gerrard/Aquilani. I'm hopeful we'll see both Gerrard and Cole in Sunday's friendly for a hint.


Yes, I'm more optimistic than I was yesterday. But it has to be emphasized that Rabotnicki were quite awful, clearly overawed by the name on the opposition's badge.


Completely agree.

nate said...

Sorry, forgot to answer your fullback part of the question, Keith. Short answer is 'not as much as we're used to' with some qualifications.

Agger got forward far less than Kelly, and not much more than when he plays center-back against weak, bus-parking opposition. Kelly delivered a couple of decent crosses, including one great cross on the run for Ngog's goal, and did look to get forward, if nowhere near as much as Johnson. But Amoo ignored his overlap far too often for my liking, perpetually trying to beat the fullback with his pace. And it worked more often than not – Amoo is blindingly quick. But his final ball was terrible 90% of the time.

keith.cygan said...

Thanks for the responses, nate. So in your formation with:

Lucas Aquilani

would that effectively be a 4-1-4-1? I'm obviously going off of a limited sample from last season, but Aquilani didn't strike me as the type of player who would do well playing so deep in the midfield. It seems to me he prefers playing shorter, quicker touches while not dribbling too much, although I'll again state that I haven't seen a whole lot of Aquilani. This also seems to differ from what you say Aquilani did today (although it may have been circumstantial).

nate said...

Yeah, after last season, I thought Aquilani was better further up the field that Gerrard, but it might be different with addition of Cole and likely subtraction of Masch. In theory, he'd have more space on the ball further away from goal, ideally playing more 'Alonso-esque' (a loaded comparison if there ever was one).

I was just surprised yesterday how he sort of retreated away from goal. May have been because it's still basically preseason, may have been because he wanted to be where the 'action' was, or maybe I'm just subconsciously trying to cram him into the mold I thought he'd be before last season.

I would be interested to see the above formation I jotted down, but it's all wait, see, and speculate at this point.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nate,

First Off Sensational Blog

I'll be heading to Europa League match next thursday, and its gonna be a dream come true. But Aurelio in Shock Return? Whattttt?

Bobby said...

.tv confirmed Fabio is back...what is this strange feeling? Excitement? Happiness?