Johnson Carragher Agger Robinson
Henderson Spearing Adam
Downing Carroll Kuyt
Johnson Carragher Agger Robinson
Kuyt Henderson Downing
• 69' – Ngog for Carroll
• 69' – Kelly for Johnson
• 69' – Flanagan for Robinson
• 80' – Sterling for Downing
• 80' – Shelvey for Adam
• 80' – Aquilani for Henderson
• 90+1' – Sama for Agger
Ogude 19' (pen)
Agger 82' 88'
Hey, at least Liverpool didn't lose! And scored three whole times! Of course, they also conceded three for the fifth consecutive preseason match, to the second string of the 11th placed team in Norway, mainly thanks to avoidable errors. And it took until the last ten minutes to get back into the match, thanks to Aquilani's entrance and Agger's threat from corners. Liverpool still failed to score from open play, notching all three from corners, for the third consecutive preseason game.
The fluidity of Kuyt, Downing, Adam, and Henderson – especially in the opening minutes – means the first half formation's nomenclature is up for debate, but I saw it as this:
A lopsided 4-3-3, but a 4-2-2-2 if you consider Adam – who played deeper than Downing – a tucked-in attacking left midfielder. Regardless, it impressed for all of 12 minutes – with Downing's tame left-footed shot after cutting in the lone goal threat – before a cheap concession sent Liverpool reeling. Spearing allowed Valerenga too much time in slicing through midfield before finding Kone, given way too much space by Johnson. The striker easily picked out Strand, who had easily gotten free of Carragher's "marking." More than one scapegoat, just the way we like it.
The second was more on the shoulders of a single culprit. Multiple defenders failed to clear before Charlie Adam rashly dove in on Kone after the chance had gone, giving Ogude the opportunity to notch from the spot.
Liverpool took time in regaining momentum, racking up possession and corners but unable to break Valerenga's deep and narrow back four. It was on the fifth of Liverpool's first half corners when Carroll finally struck: taken short, changing the angle for Downing's swinging cross, just over Agger's head but controlled and volleyed from close range by Carroll. So what if there may have been an incidental arm involved. It's preseason's after all.
The intermission saw the formation revamped, reverting to the more orthodox 4-2-3-1 we've seen most often in preseason. Liverpool continued to set the tempo, but rarely tested Valerenga's substitute keeper. The first round of substitutions changed little, but Liverpool stepped it up a gear in the final 10-15 minutes. Carroll tested Kongshavn with a point-blank downward header in the 78th – his last action of the game and one of three spectacular saves from the youngster before Aquilani's entrance triggered Liverpool's comeback.
The Italian's first action was to thwack a volley that Kongshavn somehow palmed behind. Taking the subsequent corner – Liverpool's eighth – Aquilani's found Agger's head for the equalizer. Another belter five minutes later was barely beaten over, and Aquilani again took the corner, again finding Agger via Kuyt's lucky flick-on. It was a marvelous ten-minute cameo, sure to inspire second, third, and fourth-guessing as to why he's being forced upon whichever Serie A club will give Liverpool an eight-figure sum. I don't understand the Aquilani situation, so I'm not gonna try to explain the Aquilani situation.
Having gotten what appeared to be the winner after struggling for long stretches, Liverpool hurriedly gave away the advantage. With less than a minute of injury time remaining, Fellah out-muscled Flanagan and turned inside past Carragher into space before unleashing an unstoppable equalizer.
Having far more of the first team involved rightly leads to more in-depth analysis, rather than the banal but true 'it's preseason' cliché. That Liverpool continues to concede thanks to sloppy mistakes is an increasingly monstrous concern. Yes, some can be blamed on preseason: Johnson was especially terrible in defense, but it's his first match back. His biggest problem was being caught flat-footed and for pace too often, which is far less likely when at full fitness.
More worrying was Carragher's positioning, although the 176-year old center-back did well to make some needed last-ditch recovery tackles on a couple of occasions. Most worrying is Liverpool's lack of a definitive left back. Robinson didn't do poorly – probably the best defender in the first half – but he's still a wee lad. Claiming Aurelio's made of glass is an insult to glass everywhere. And I'm still not convinced Insua counts. Liverpool's can't go into the season hoping one of the three right backs will be versatile enough to cover. At the same time, Liverpool's defense wasn't helped by Spearing as the sole holding midfielder in the first half's strange formation – if anything, it reinforced just how important Lucas is to the side.
The lack of open play goals, of Carroll not clicking with the midfielders, is also disconcerting, but the point of preseason is to bed him in with the likes of Adam, Henderson, and Downing, as well as the teammates who he rarely played with from Febraury through May. That will come with time. But the defense needs to be fixed before the end of August.
The last preseason game, against Valencia at Anfield, is Saturday. A week before hosting Sunderland.