Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Henderson Aquilani Downing
• 46' – Lucas for Spearing
• 46' – Robinson for Aurelio
• 59' – Kuyt for Henderson
• 59' – Cole for Aquilani
• 59' – Ngog for Carroll
• 59' – Maxi for Downing
• 74' – Flanagan for Adam
• 77' – Kyrgiakos for Agger
Impressive and improving. A home win and clean sheet, probably the best preseason performance coming against the best opposition faced so far, with Johnson's sixth-minute injury the sole concern.
Liverpool's rampant start, featuring incisive, intelligent passes instead of hoofs as well as dizzyingly high pressing, led to the early opener. After twice threatening via Downing crosses in the first three minutes, Carroll's closing down led to Albelda's soft back pass, which he quickly seized upon. Alves pushed the striker's initial effort onto the near post, but Carroll beat both keeper and defender to the rebound.
Unfortunately, the aftermath saw Johnson limp off, replaced by Martin Kelly. Valencia twice troubled Liverpool with crosses from that flank as the young fullback took time to settle, but Alba over-hit the first while the second just eluded the on-rushing Topal. Unsurprisingly, Kelly soon found his sea legs, keeping Juan "Liverpool's Savior" Mata completely quiet, and Liverpool re-established dominance. Carroll's workrate constantly unsettled Valencia's backline while Downing continually tortured Bruno down the left flank. With Aurelio and Agger in defense, Liverpool played from the back instead of launching long balls, aided by Adam's steadier, less spectacular style of play.
Lucas and Robinson replaced Spearing and Aurelio after the interval and the Brazilian international's introduction immediately reminded of the qualities only he provides. His entrance was a security blanket thrown over a defense prone to exposure, constantly putting out small fires before any had the chance to blaze; Valencia didn't threaten until two half-chances in the final five minutes.
Liverpool sent on four new faces at the hour mark, replacing Carroll, Downing, Henderson, and Aquilani with Ngog, Maxi, Cole, and Kuyt. The changes nearly paid an immediate reward with Lucas to Kuyt to Maxi to Ngog ending with the Frenchman volleying the Argentinean's volley wide, but the multitude of substitutions (including a raft of changes from Valencia) meant the game played out at prototypical preseason pace. Banega's entrance with ten to play was the catalyst for those two Valencia chances: the first smothered behind by Reina after Banega somehow snaked a throughball to Soldado, the second whistled over the bar by Tino Costa after the subsequent short corner.
But Liverpool closed the match by scoring a deserved second, scrambled home as cymbals clattered hilariously. Ngog headed Cole's free kick into the ground, Kuyt and Kyrgiakos – both questionably offside – poked and prodded in the direction of goal as Valencia whiffed in vain, with the Dutchman apparently getting the final touch.
Johnson's injury was today's lone ink stain. Hopefully it's only serious enough to keep him out of England's totally unnecessary midweek friendly. Otherwise, Liverpool were better in simply every area, something we desperately needed to see from the final tune-up. Which, if I'm being churlish, isn't wholly surprising when Liverpool play at Anfield, unlike the previous five friendlies away from home.
Downing was easily Liverpool's best player, a constant threat as the constant option down Liverpool's left, linking up with Aurelio and Adam and firing in crosses. Carroll's pressure created Liverpool's first and should have led to a 29th-minute second, fired tamely at Alves after undressing Rami yet again. The defense didn't concede once, let alone thrice, as Liverpool's first-choice (and, yes, frequently injured) backline played together for the first time. Spearing and Adam held the midfield well in the first half, but a more disciplined Adam looked even better with Lucas for the 30 minutes they played together – a pairing we'll probably see often as Liverpool played 4-2-3-1 yet again.
The line-up guessing game can wait until later in the week, dependent on Johnson's fitness and whether there's any movement on the on-off-on-off Aquilani front. Plus, we're still to see where Gerrard, Suarez, and Meireles fit into this new movement, although none are likely to start against Sunderland. Seeing the team thrive, able to keep a clean sheet and taking the game to a talented opposition with nearly a first-choice team should suffice for a day or two.