Coutinho 14' (pen)
And it's almost a full day after the fact by now, but here are a few notes on facets I found interesting. Remember the usual caveats that it's preseason, can't always divine omens from these entrails, etc.
Formation/first half v second half:
The formations may have been different in the first and second halves – more a 4-2-3-1 in the first, a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 in the second – but the style remained the same. Both XIs featured excellent ball retention, controlled the tenor and tempo of the match, varied well between long and short passes, and pressed from the front.
Aside from a few experiments with three defenders and a couple of matches with both Suarez and Sturridge up top, Liverpool were rigidly 4-2-3-1 for almost all of last season. And even in those different formations, Liverpool's midfield shape usually remained the same: two holding midfielders with an attacker further forward, whether Coutinho, Henderson, Shelvey, Suarez, etc. Almost every time. Seeing a different midfield shape – Lucas as the sole holding midfielder and two slight attacking midfielders in Luis Alberto and Pacheco – but the same control and same "Rodgers style" was quite encouraging.
The hub, the epicenter, the focal point, the polestar. Coutinho was absolutely central to everything in the attacking third – highlighted during Liverpool's first goal: winning the ball back then winning a penalty, then subsequently scoring said penalty as casually as possible – and it seems clear that most players' first thought was "where is Coutinho can I pass it to Coutinho" when building the attack. Which is both a very promising thing and a slightly worrying thing.
We've seen before *cough Suarez cough* that Liverpool can suffer when relying on a single player for its attack, but I don't necessarily think that was or will be the case here. It's more that Rodgers sees the Brazilian as an extremely important piece, and is more than happy to assemble his side around him, despite what Liverpool's pursuit of Mkhitaryan implies. That should do wonders for Coutinho's confidence and form, especially after his travails and set-backs at Inter.
Spearing at full-back:
Made very little sense. Yes, the fitness staff didn't seem comfortable playing Kelly for more than a few minutes. Without Coates, Wisdom was needed at center-back. Without Enrique, Flanagan was needed at left-back. It was still strange to see Liverpool's very own hobbit bombing up and down the touchline in the first half.
He didn't do badly, by any stretch, and set up a couple of good chances for Borini. But he's not a full-back: not at his height and not considering his usual troubles with positioning. And that he was played out of position in the first friendly of the season, with Liverpool slightly lacking bodies in central midfield anyway, bodes poorly for his Liverpool future.
The New Boys:
Both Mignolet and Toure had next to nothing to do; the Belgian made one good save on a shot from distance and commanded his box well the few times Preston managed to get the ball in the attacking third, while Toure won all of his few duels and had a crucial header to clear Humphrey's dangerous cross early on. And that was about it.
Luis Alberto and Aspas, on the other hand, were quite involved, and both played quite well. Alberto seemed slightly more restrained in this central role, but his head was always up, his ball control brilliant, his passing crisp and clever. He oozed potential. And Aspas was as advertised, constant running from a central position, capped off with a bamboozling goal from the top of the box that completely fooled Preston's keeper. More of both of those, please.
The Kids Are Still Alright:
That Liverpool's two other goals came from Ibe and Sterling might be the most heartening facet, outside of the obvious fascination with Liverpool's new toys: Ibe's was a typical cut-inside, roll it past the keeper strike, while Sterling beat the offside trap then rounded the keeper. The competition between those two teenagers is going to be amazing, and the two are going to keep pushing each other to make the squad/starting XI. Each should be excellent for the other's development, neither one will be able to take a day/week/match off with the other breathing down his neck. Survival of the fittest. And they both look pretty fit.
Welcome back, football. We missed you.