Another friendly, another formation:
Today's starting XI featured exactly zero new signings – Liverpool could have (but probably shouldn't have) deployed this line-up last season – but was very much an orthodox 4-3-3. Borini, Sterling, and Ibe were all forwards, with the "wingers" often closer to goal than the "striker." Henderson, Allen, and Gerrard were a rotating midfield trio, with Henderson usually closer to Borini, but all with complete license to get forward at will. That's now 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-1-1 that we've seen through three matches, with different midfield setups in each as well. Preseason is the time to experiment, after all.
More and more minutes:
There's also a clearly determined fitness program going on, one even idiotic laymen like me can gauge. Liverpool's starters played 45 minutes in the first friendly, an hour or so in the second friendly, and 73 minutes today. It seems designed to ensure everyone's in peak condition once the real season starts; Liverpool certainly can't afford to start in the same form as last season. And in the previous preseason, Liverpool changed almost the entire team (if not the entire team) at halftime in all four fixtures. Yes, Liverpool had early Europa League qualifiers to deal with, and were coming off both the Euros and Olympics, but it's still heartening to see the starters pushed this hard this early.
1st half standouts:
Allen, Ibe, Wisdom, and Skrtel. And, unsurprisingly, Gerrard.
Allen was excellent in a shuttling role: setting the tempo, linking with Gerrard, and reclaiming possession, demonstrating intelligent positioning both with and without the ball. The goal was a thing of beauty: cleverly dummied by the captain, knowing Allen would make the run, followed by a trademark Gerrard charge into the box, with Allen perfectly finding his run. Ibe, like Sterling, was an flat-track speed racer, confidently looking to burst past the fullback and set up someone in the box. Both Wisdom and Skrtel bullied their opposing numbers, while the former also strode into midfield to cut off a potential attack multiple times and the latter showed an excellent range of passing from the back. Wisdom's obviously jumped Coates on Rodgers' depth chart, and – fair warning: I'm speculating – his improvement may well be a big reason why Liverpool's gone quite on the center-back front since signing Kolo Toure.
But still too blunt, again:
As against Indonesia, Liverpool looked wholly lacking in front of goal at times. Last Saturday, the conditions and terrible pitch were at least some consolation. Today, most of that bluntness seemed down to Liverpool's personnel.
Henderson is a darling around many corners of the internet (and rightfully so), but he's nowhere near able to replicate Coutinho's flair in the final third. Borini, is well, out of sorts, to put it nicely. So it was little surprise to see Liverpool limited to one flowing move (set up and scored by the "deeper" midfielders, I'll remind) and blasts from distance from Sterling, Gerrard, and Allen. And while neither Borini nor Henderson will probably be first-choice attackers once the real football starts, it's still a bit worrisome. Especially given the continuing uncertainty surrounding one Luis Suarez.
We're all body language experts:
'Suarez looks unhappy!' 'He's not trying!' You know what? He's still a Liverpool player. He still set up a goal, doing typical Suarez things along the byline. He just re-joined the team a couple of days ago. And it's still July. There's nothing any of us can do to decide his future sooner. Let's all wait until something happens one way or the other before jumping off the cliff.
Did he look unhappy? Yeah, kinda. Does he frequently look unhappy, frustrated and snarling his way around the pitch? Yeah, kinda. Does it makes sense to play him for 20 minutes in a friendly, not long after flying halfway around the world, with his future still undecided and uncertain? Not especially. It admittedly seems a statement of hopeful intent more than anything else. Nonetheless, it's safe to assume Rodgers knows more about his situation than we do.
Incidentally, it was interesting to see how he and Aspas lined up after coming on with 20 minutes to play. It was basically the reverse of how Suarez and Sturridge paired in certain matches last season, something of a 4-4-1-1, with Suarez as the spearhead and Aspas lurking in and around behind him. I find it hard to believe that'll be the case next season. If, of course, Suarez stays.
We all thought that Aspas was signed to "replace" Downing, but he's been used as a central striker in all three preseason matches so far, also on the pitch at the same time as Downing in all three.
Agger's the new vice-captain:
This is the most important thing we learned today. Lucas took the arm-band from Gerrard when he came on for the captain. But 10 minutes later, Lucas handed the armband over to Agger when the latter came up during the bulk of the substitutions. This information deserves all the BREAKING NEWS sirens, klaxons, and flashing lights. Go Team Agger.