07 August 2013

Liverpool 4-1 Vålerenga

Luis Alberto 31'
Gonzalez 35'
Aspas 44'
Kelly 54'
Sterling 90+1'

A return to normalcy
More of what we expect from preseason in terms of personnel, a more familiar formation, and a more familiar Liverpool – for better and for worse.

Both halves featured almost totally different XIs, unlike in most of the previous friendlies. With just one more to play, against Celtic on Saturday, Rodgers is seemingly putting the finishing touches on full fitness, especially with his hands tied by Agger, Johnson, Skrtel, and Suarez unable to travel (or, more probably, unwilling in the latter's case, but let's not talk about that please).

And both XIs saw Liverpool return to last season's 4-2-3-1 formation, with Luis Alberto then Coutinho ahead of two "sitting" midfielders: Henderson and Allen, then Lucas and Gerrard, rather than the more out-and-out 4-3-3 with two attacking midfielders ahead of one anchor against both Thailand and Olympiakos.

Also all too familiar was Liverpool wastefulness. The visitors bossed the match, from start to finish, and should have had far more than four goals to show for it, too often failing, if only barely, at the final hurdle. Borini, Coutinho, and Gerrard each missed by inches in the second half, Aspas should have won a penalty in the first half, and Vålerenga's starting keeper made some excellent saves, predominately on Aspas. Unsurprisingly, the crossbar also struck again. Or, more accurately, Liverpool struck the crossbar again. And again and again. Aspas, Toure, and Borini all hit the woodwork, Liverpool's fifth, sixth, and seventh strikes off the crossbar through six preseason matches. Seriously guys, it's not funny anymore. It's spooky. And depressing. And slightly infuriating.

Still, it's hard to complain when Liverpool are wasteful yet score four goals. But – unnecessary disclaimer – Liverpool will assuredly come up against tougher defenses; Vålerenga's fullbacks were especially tortured today.

There was also a firm sense of deja vu when Liverpool finally conceded its first goal of preseason. Because it came from a set play, something that happened 17 times last season (26.6% of Liverpool's goals conceded in all competitions). Eight of those 17 were corners, like today's, as Gonzalez eluded Henderson's marking easily, giving Jones absolutely no chance to stop the free header.

The more things change, the more that some things stay the same.

The stars
Allen, Ibe, and Aspas in the first half, Borini, Coutinho, and Sterling in the second half, while Wisdom was impressive throughout.

As mentioned above, both Ibe and Sterling thrived against Vålerenga's left- and right-backs respectively, causing havoc time and time again with both pace and trickery. But, heck, even Downing beat his defender for pace a couple of times so maybe that wasn't quite as impressive as it looked. Still, the kids are alright.

Allen looks back to the form that we saw to start last season, when he was Liverpool's best player through the first few matches (matches which Liverpool admittedly did not do well in): setting up and continuing attacks, spreading play well, getting forward but also doing a reasonable job in the holding role when needed. Who would have guessed that having a healthy shoulder would improve one's ability to play football at a high level?

Today's goal was Aspas' fourth in preseason, to go along with his three assists. In just about 300 minutes of football, which means he's either setting up or scoring a goal once every 42 minutes or so. And, again, he should have had more today, whether through a penalty, when hitting the crossbar, or when twice denied by the opposition keeper. I'm already overusing this line and we're not even into "real football" yet, but yes, chaos is come again. Get used to it.

Finally, Wisdom – still only 20 years old – looks better every time I see him play. Yes, yes, preseason, but his positioning at center-back seems miles better than it looked at right back last season, knowing where to be to cut off attacks. He's quite good in the air (something Liverpool desperately needs), and better with the ball at his feet with each successive appearance. I'm truly looking forward to his development.

The goals
Via the outstanding Feint Zebra:

Luis Alberto | Aspas | Kelly | Sterling

Visit his website frequently and follow him on Twitter if, somehow, you aren't doing so already.


John Galt said...

I thought Henderson and Allen were tremendous in the double pivot role. Both full of energy (ironically both probably trying to outdo one another) and pretty efficient. Would love to hear your thoughts.

nate said...

As implied above, thought Allen was better than Henderson, who did a bit of his aimless if hardworking running, but there's a future in that pairing. I just worry about the length of the period of adjustment. And against the "bigger" sides (esp. away from Anfield), I still think I prefer Henderson on the left.

Also, even though it doesn't pertain to how he played in central midfield, Henderson loses points for how easily he got played for the set piece goal. That kid is really not good at aerial duels.