Who would have guessed that Roma would pose more of a problem than Toronto FC, especially when starting the likes of Totti, Osvaldo, Pjanic, Bradley, Rosi, and Burdisso, and bringing on Bojan, Lamela, and Heinze in the second half?
Still, it was disappointing to see regression from last Saturday's friendly. It's hard to be certain without the accustomed stats and chalkboards, but it sure felt like Liverpool had less possession, less cohesion, and more long, errant passes.
Granted, Suarez, Carroll, Borini, and Bellamy are missing, but the next tier of forwards – Eccleston, Morgan, Cole, Sterling – again looked impotent. Something something Maxi, Kuyt rabble rabble rabble. Liverpool's defense also seemed far worse, especially at left back – whether it was Enrique completely off the pace or Wilson completely out of position, used because Robinson supposedly picked up a knock in training yesterday.
Liverpool again played 4-3-3, with two midfielders ahead of a holder in the first half and an attacking midfielder ahead of two holders in the second half. Liverpool's slightly weaker first half side looked slightly more impressive; only Shelvey and Cole actually played well – the only two with actual chances to score – and Spearing admittedly almost gifted Roma a goal if not for a weak shot and good save. But overall there were fewer mistakes, especially in defense, despite a less than impressive performance from Enrique, despite Carragher turned inside out by Osvaldo in the 17th. Shelvey forced two good saves from Lobont, the first self-created with a strong run, the second from Sterling's cross which eluded Cole, and the keeper did well to push both away from any potential Liverpool rebound. Cole hit the crossbar, set up by Aquilani's excellent chip, then tested Lobont just before halftime after a good turn and run.
Liverpool probably played its best in the first 15 minutes of the second half, before the final four changes. Shelvey continued to play well – although made a giveaway similar to Spearing's which required Jones to save Tachtsidis' shot with his feet – combining well with also-impressive Pacheco. Most importantly, Liverpool at least kept, if not dominated, possession, which seems the starting point for what Rodgers wants to accomplish.
Not coincidently, Roma's goals swiftly followed Liverpool's final changes. Specifically, Erik Lamela simply destroyed an uncertain Danny Wilson. For Roma's first, Lamela danced around Wilson, dragging him far up the pitch and into the center before delivering a through ball for Michael Bradley, bursting forward from midfield between Pacheco and Agger, picked up by neither, slotting in off the far post. Six minutes later, soon after Adam conceded possession with a trademark hopeful long ball to the wrong team, Roma burst down the pitch, through the middle then down Liverpool's left. Lamela cut inside around Wilson, then got in front of Wilson to receive the pass back, centering for Florenzi to hammer into the net. Unsurprisingly, the goals sandwiched Liverpool's best chance of the match so far, when Pacheco beat Rosi to the byline and crossed for Suso, whose point-blank volley was somehow blocked by a retreating defender.
Adam pulled one back ten minutes from time with an excellent low piledriver from the top of the box, set up by Pacheco's lay-off from Flanagan's long cross, once again proving that there's good to go along with his bad. But Liverpool couldn't find a second; Lamela was the only player to come close in the late stages, cannoning a shot off the post after flummoxing poor Danny Wilson yet again, a minute after blazing over from the top of the box. He was the best player on show, but made better by his marker. But this is overly cruel to Wilson, used out of position by his third Liverpool manager; hopefully this manager will realize he's a center-back and no more.
Still, for all the above criticism, this is Liverpool's second preseason game under a new manager, using at least 22 different players in each match, many who've never started a senior league match before. 15 of the 25 players used against Roma and Toronto are 22 or under, the average age of the 25 players is 22.4. Meanwhile, this was Roma's sixth preseason match, with only Daniele De Rossi missing from its usual line-up. All that's truly worrying is Liverpool's continued impotence up front, the lack of depth with key players missing, reliant on untested, raw youngsters.
Preseason is only good for fitness, after all. However, even without Suarez, Gerrard, Borini, Henderson, Carroll, Bellamy, Reina, Downing, Johnson, and Kelly, I just wish Liverpool looked more like I imagine Rodgers' side can and will look in the future.