18 October 2011

Liverpool 0-1 Rangers

Johnson Coates Agger Wilson
Spearing Lucas Aurelio
Bellamy Carroll Maxi

McCulloch 20'

58' – Hansen for Doni
64' – Adam for Lucas
64' – Downing for Bellamy
64' – Flanagan for Johnson
64' – Kuyt for Aurelio
78' – Enrique for Wilson
78' – Henderson for Maxi
78' – Skrtel for Agger

The match was poor, Liverpool were poor. This is why if any mid-season club friendlies take place, they're usually unseen by mere mortals, behind closed doors. But Rangers really need money, while Liverpool wouldn't mind some sweet sweet cash of their own. Plus, the pretense of a pretend European match held a bit of allure for both sides. Not to mention the actual, tangible benefits of match practice for those returning from injury, out-of-favor, or inexperienced. Unfortunately, the one player who actually impressed, Doni, now has a broken or dislocated finger.

Today doesn't seem to deserve the usual formation diagram. Besides, the initial set-up only lasted until Rangers' opener. What started as something like a 4-3-3, something like a 4-3-2-1, with Bellamy and Maxi playing off Carroll, the first half ended with Bellamy behind Carroll and Maxi on the right, much more a 4-4-1-1 seemingly intent on calming and balancing an open, unfamiliar side.

Liverpool had scads of early possession, but were bogged down by a deep midfield and defense soaking up disconnected pressure. Rangers' chance on the counter turned into three when Liverpool couldn't clear: Doni had to make two smart saves before Liverpool failed to empty a corner, Johnson's half-clearance falling to McCulloch, whose shot fortunately ricocheted off both post and Aurelio.

The first raft of substitutions again altered the formation, now a more familiar 4-2-2-2, but Liverpool still lacked tempo and chances. Rangers, at home and with more to gain and prove, had chances: Doni's injury came when scrambling to somehow keep out Lafferty's effort, while the same player hit the bar and Weir's strike landed on the roof of the net. But it was no surprise to see Liverpool finally threaten in the last ten minutes with more usual starters on the pitch, but Henderson had efforts deflected over and volleyed wide, Carroll headed wide and didn't win a soft penalty, and Downing's right-footed shot was easily smothered. Alas.

Regardless of result, game time for the returning-from-injury Agger, Aurelio, and Johnson, two of whom start in Liverpool's best back four, assuredly benefits the club. Coates, one of the better players on the day, got 90 more minutes with his new teammates. Doni also needed a chance with Reina playing in the Carling Cup as well as every league match ever, and his injury was today's biggest blot. Those just outside the first-team looking in probably should have done more; neither Maxi, Bellamy, nor Spearing furthered their cause. Carroll, finally an out-and-out target man, was the worst offender, without service for long stretches but also appearing wholly uninterested. I'll be more concerned if that's the case in the league or cups. The entire side, even those supposedly looking to force their way into contention, played like, well, like it was a friendly.

Today saw something akin to a Carling Cup line-up in previous years: predominantly second-string veterans with a couple of regular starters and a youngster or two. Liverpool were able to give these players games in a situation where the club aren't punished if/when it doesn't work perfectly. Unlike when we've seen the side booted out of an actual competition by the likes of Northampton, Reading, or Braga.

It'd be nice to have more positives, to write something other than "friendlies are friendlies," but we've enough to worry about from competitive fixtures. I'd rather save complaints (and praise, if any) for when it counts.

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