21 July 2012

Liverpool 1-1 Toronto

Amarikwa 58'
Morgan 69'

Yes, yes. Preseason is preseason is preseason. It's the same mantra repeated every year, but we're still here. The usual post-match analysis is beyond moot, but a few thoughts seem worth noting

What stood out was that Rodgers' ethos, both promised and hypothesized, seemed to be taking hold, despite how little time he's had with the squad and how many "regulars" were missing.

Since Liverpool deployed completely different XIs in each half, lets break this up.

1st Half
• Liverpool had a 67-33% advantage in possession, but Liverpool had exactly zero shots on target. Pacheco had a couple of efforts blocked, Liverpool should have won on a penalty when Enrique's wild right-footed shot was blocked with an arm, and Eccleston looped an off-balance header from an Adam ball over the top wide of the goal. Liverpool kept the ball well, won the ball back well – often gratifyingly high up the pitch – but didn't do enough with it.

• Liverpool's midfield was "2-1" – Spearing sitting in front of the back four, with Aquilani and Adam ahead of him.

Aquilani looked a class above, but Aquilani looked a class above in preseason a year ago too. Spearing did good things and bad things. This was a role that suited him, and he usually kept it simple and kept it moving, but still tried too hard too often because he's Jay Spearing and almost always tries too hard too often. Adam mostly just looked lost, frequently switching sides with Aquilani, which seemed more happenstance rather than a planned feature to unsettle the defense. And his set plays were crap. In his defense, which I feel required to do on occasion because no one else wants to, this is this first time he's played with a midfielder like Aquilani while at Liverpool.

• Pacheco was one of the other highlights, Liverpool's most frequent threat, but his final pass was terrible. Just terrible. And that's putting it nicely. He got into wonderful positions, through good movement and good footwork, but wasted every single one of them, whether crossing too close to the keeper or under-hitting a cut-back towards the spot.

Ibe looked a typical, promising 16-year-old, with absolutely no fear, but too easy to read, running at defenders then losing possession. Eccleston's movement was impressive, dropping deep, chasing into the channels, and harrying defenders when they were in possession, but that movement was often impotent when Liverpool were attacking. Still it was ever so encouraging to see forwards pressing opposition defenders in their own half, especially in the first preseason match.

• Toronto may have registered the only shot on goal in the first half, but they still looked just as unlikely to score as Liverpool did. I was most impressed by Stephen Sama, whose positioning belied his age. Wisdom, in an unfamiliar right-back role, noticeably improved as the half went on, especially going forward. Carragher was Carragher and Enrique was Enrique – and, fair warning, Enrique's gonna cause some heart-in-mouth moments when playing out of defense this season, as Rodgers' side looks determined to do.

2nd Half
• When you play a midfield of Adorjan-Suso-Shelvey, you can't be surprised when your side concedes after getting carved open through the middle. All three midfielders were caught upfield after Liverpool lost possession deep in Toronto's half, Liverpool's back four backed off and backed off and backed off, allowing Camargo to run straight down the center of the pitch. Gulasci saved his shot from the top of the box, but Skrtel, continuing to back up, played Amarikwa onside; first to the rebound, Gulasci had no chance.

• Unlike the first half, it was more a 1-2 midfield, with Liverpool's formation frequently looking like a 4-2-3-1, with Suso clearly ahead of Adorjan and Shelvey. Admittedly, I'm less familiar with the young reserves than I should be, but I was under the impression Adorjan was primarily an attacking midfielder, if not a support striker. Regardless, he looked less than comfortable in the role. And regardless of the goal concession, it was still disappointing to see the three fail to gel, with Liverpool more disconnected in midfield than in the first half, although both Suso and Shelvey impressed at times.

• Rodgers' tactical "revolution" was less apparent in the second half, whether due to personnel or the change in the midfield structure. There was less patience and less possession, despite being up against Toronto's academy players and reserves rather than the first team that played in the first team. Liverpool seemed to have a singular plan: find Sterling, usually with cross-field diagonals from Suso or Shelvey. And Toronto realized this fairly early on. Still, it eventually led to Liverpool's equalizer. With Toronto players sucked over to Liverpool's right after build-up down that flank, Cole found Sterling with a low cross-field pass. Sterling feinted past a first defender when he over-reached trying to intercept, then burst past a second defender with that well-known blistering pace after a drop of the shoulder. Sterling's left-footed shot probably would have eked in, around the goalkeeper after he over-committed to his near post, but Morgan was on hand for a two-inch tap-in, as all good goal-hanging strikers should be. Morgan's reaction belied the importance of the occasion. No matter if it's preseason, it's a young local lad's first senior goal, and he celebrated as such.

• From there, there was only one storyline. Lucas. L-U-C-A-S. The Brazilian midfielder made his long-awaited return in the 74th minute, replacing Adorjan, to stadium-wide applause. Sure, he looked rusty. Sure, a couple Toronto players ran around him when the Lucas we know would have taken both ball and leg, but no matter. He's still back. Earlier than expected, no less. Saints be praised.

• Otherwise, the match ended as the match progressed, with Liverpool in possession but spoiling any potential opportunities. Joe Cole was particularly wasteful, but that's not entirely unexpected because, yeah, Joe Cole.

It's been just a couple of weeks, but the team's already starting to play according to Rodgers' blueprint. Yes, Liverpool sloppily conceded. Yes, it wasn't especially effective, and it disappointingly lessened in the second half. But – it should go without saying – it's incredibly early. This is exactly what preseason's for. Young players got the chance to impress – and a few of them did – and, tactically, Liverpool started to look a different side compared to last season's massive disappointments.

There's obviously a long road ahead but it's still nice to have a new beginning.


kanagu said...

thats a wonderful match report Nate. Agree with you on most of the points. I thought the second half will make us to see what Rodgers was trying to do(Passing with penetration). But our players couldn't keep the ball. Suso shown some real good skills but yet lost possession number of times. Pachecho looked good.

You missed to mention about Adam who still not learned to tackle without fouling. But some of his long balls were good. The less we talk about his set pieces, the better.

But we have got to see a game after 2 months and thats great. Hoping to different combination in the coming matches.

DM Osbon said...

Something you didn't touch on Nate was Carra's passing which was far less hoof and far more short passing. He also completed 50 of his 50 attempts which is encouraging too.

I believe if LFC are to do well this year then the old guard of players need to be at the top of their game. Carra is still vastly important, even if he is as unused as last season in the league. I can see him playing far more in the Europa League comp this term.

Stephen said...

I felt that Aquilani was not impressive...not enough movement away from the ball...not enough creativity with the ball. Was really hoping to see something from him as I think we have issues in midfield with Lucas recovering/rusty, Gerrard past his prime, Henderson unproven, and Adam not a fit for this style of play.

Also felt that Enrique was not effective going forward... Dribbling out of control into the final third ... No real threat to score ... He will be a liability in this system that requires defense up the pitch and fullbacks to be goal scoring threats

Having said that...they did possess well and defend reasonably well. The key remains finding creativity in the final third ... Suarez, Borini, Johnson should be threats in that regard but we need another winger (Dempsey) and a creative attacking midfielder (is that Gerrard?)

Balint said...

Sorry to bother but his name is Gulacsi (Gulácsi) and not Gulasci.

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