09 August 2012

Liverpool 3-0 Gomel

Borini 21'
Gerrard 41'
Johnson 71'

Maybe we shouldn't get carried away after beating the third-best Belorussian team in the qualifying stage of the Europa League, but it's hard to avoid getting carried away when Liverpool look light years better than last week or in any of the previous preseason matches. Or at almost any stage last season.

Liverpool were dominant from the opening whistle, perpetually in Gomel's half, pressing furiously and winning the ball back within seconds of losing it, dicing through the opposition with clever, quick movement and passes from every angle, seemingly as if they've been doing this forever.

That might have had something to do with the starting line-up. This line-up featured Reina, Suarez, Agger, and Lucas where – no offense meant – last week's had Jones, Cole, Carragher, and Spearing. It's not surprising that it led to an immensely improved performance. Notably, we saw Suarez, Gerrard, Agger, and Lucas all in the starting XI, something that didn't happen in any of last season's 51 matches.

It also might have had something to do with Gerrard playing further forward, returning to the position which helped lead Liverpool to its best season in the last decade. Over the last two years, often playing as a deep-lying playmaker when fit, we've somewhat forgotten just how influential he can be in an advanced position, cleverly linking midfield and attack, crucial to the divine interplay between Suarez and Borini.

And that man Suarez was at his tyrannical, bomb-throwing best, the architect of the two first half goals which killed the tie. The first was a archetypal ankle-breaking byline run after Shelvey intercepted an attempted Gomel clearance and Lucas immediately fed Suarez with a perfectly-placed through ball. Suarez's attempted cross was deflected away after he danced past Kuzmanok, but fell kindly for Borini, thrashing a shot under Bushma for a goal on his Anfield debut. Twenty minutes later, after continued Liverpool command despite two Gomel chances – the only two they had all match, both saved by Reina – Suarez single-handedly destroyed Gomel's center-back pairing, through Kashevski then around Kuzmanok, before centering for a Gerrard tap into an empty net, once again proving the importance of midfield runners following the ball into the box.

Liverpool maintained its dominance after the interval, able to do pretty much whatever they wanted, with Gerrard hitting post within eight minutes of the restart. Even considering this vast improvement, it still wouldn't be a Liverpool match without a strike off the woodwork. Suarez forced a couple more saves from Bushma before Johnson's brilliant individual third, intercepting an attempted clearing header after another Liverpool assault, one touch with his chest, then lashing an unstoppable half-volley with his "weaker" foot. It was the pick of the bunch, and for the second-straight week, a goal that probably would have made my top ten from last season. I'm assuming that's a good omen.

From there, cruise control. Carragher and Adam replaced Skrtel and Shelvey before Spearing came on for Lucas, and we saw the passive, controlling possession that was more expected than the rampage in the first 75 minutes.

Again, all the caveats about the quality of the opposition are both expected and understandable. Still, it's hard not to be overjoyed with Liverpool's style of play. Of course a three-nil win is encouraging, but how that three-nil win came about was even more so. Free-flowing passing and movement; non-stop pressing, winning the ball back in Gomel's half countless times; Gerrard in his best position; Suarez at his best – both in attacking creativity and in defending from the front. Borini scored in his first match, Johnson was another contender for man of the match, Shelvey rarely looked out of place, Liverpool's central defense was almost never threatened, and Lucas again demonstrated his overwhelming importance. Not to bring last season's prejudices into this one, but even Downing looked a wholly different player: providing dangerous crosses with his left and right foot, combining excellently with the superlative Glen Johnson, and moving off the ball – which has been the biggest criticism of his Liverpool performances to date.

This was what we needed to see prior to next Saturday's league opener against West Brom. That, and many other matches, almost assuredly won't go so smoothly, but we got a concrete glimpse of this side's potential under its new manager.


BackBergtt said...

Seeing his system in full effect (not fully honed obviously but the idea is there) .....



Carroll does not fit into it. They were right. There's no way he's switching positions and working left to right like Suarez and Borini - the latter of which is a lot faster than I thought.

Breaks my heart.

drew said...

On the other hand, after watching the inevitable YouTube clips and some Swansea and Roma matches from the past few years, I was prepared to fall head over heels in love with Borini, and he did not disappoint. Nothing like an early first goal to bed in a striker; a few more and maybe we'll have not only a high-energy pursuit machine, but the ruthless poacher we've so desperately missed.

Know you mentioned it Nate but hard to underestimate just how important it is to have Reina back to his sweeper-keeping best. Pretty sure any decline of his form in the last season or two is down to changing his role away from what he was so good at under Rafa.

Also, zonal marking. Thank Christ.

Elsewhere even with possibility of Downing's revival (man, did he ever fit in well today), still want to see another winger (anything we get for Cole, even wage reduction, is gravy); also hope we flog Adam and keep Shelvey around. And if Carroll does go, a forward, possibly on loan--don't need top shelf goods, just someone with willing legs and, like Georger noted, positional flexibility. The Allen signing is huge because it lets us rest Lucas sometimes

I know there will be some times this season where the system breaks down, but good god am I looking forward to seeing things come together. Pretty sure the first XI is a match for anyone excepting maybe Man City, but past that point is where the success of the season will be determined.

nate said...

Carroll could be a different type of player, almost totally as a sub, maybe a starter depending on the opposition, but you're right, he doesn't really fit with how Liverpool played today. Which is why I've resigned myself to his sale, as much as I personally like the player and want to see him succeed. As long as Liverpool can recoup enough money to slightly save face. It's similar to how I feel about Adam; he's not a bad option off the bench, either to slow the pace of play or to try and open up the opposition depending on the situation, but he won't and shouldn't be first choice by any stretch of the imagination.

Sorry drew, Chelsea's first XI is better, Arsenal's is probably better (with or without RvP), and United's is more familiar with each other despite the weak spots (RB, CM continue to stick out like sore thumbs). That doesn't mean I'm any less excited about Liverpool's potential (which should be cause for concern); Liverpool has a very good first XI. Nonetheless, squad depth was and remains the biggest worry.

Unsurprisingly, agree with everything else you said, though.

BackBergtt said...

Our defense and CDM bests anyone but City probably, and that's obviously contingent on it staying together, but Chelsea, United, and Arsenal all have serious issues at the fullback positions.

Not that I think we're going to challenge them, but I think that the fourth spot is wide open for the taking.

Chelsea have no real system and a Potemkin manager, they're still coming off a horrid league campaign and god rid of their talisman and several depth guys. I think they're a lot more vulnerable in the fourth place hunt than people think.