Against the most supported team in the A-League, with more than half the Melbourne Cricket Ground clad in red belting out You’ll Never Walk Alone second only to Anfield’s famous European nights, the Reds gave a good account of themselves with another solid win for pre-season.
The first half team sheet gave Liverpool fans a nice taste of how dangerous Brendan Rodgers’ team could be if he deployed pacey wingers more often. Young trailblazers Jordan Ibe and Raheem Sterling flanked forward Fabio Borini, and they immediately showed off their offensive talents with dangerous runs down their respective flanks, as well as the ability to beat their full-back, however lesser class compared to the Pablo Zabaleta and Leighton Baines of the Premier League. Just imagine if a false number nine in Luis Suarez were to drop off and feed their runs in behind the defence, how much havoc that may cause.
Gerrard. 33 but still a cause for Liverpool optimism.
Seemingly over the injury and surgery that kept him out of the last season’s final two games, skipper Steven Gerrard started his second game in five days. His display would have given Reds fans much comfort, knowing that he still possesses the nuance and stamina to get into offensive positions when he needs to. Deployed beside another comeback player in Joe Allen, both sat surprisingly much deeper than envisioned, almost just on top of the two centre-backs, at least at the beginning. Full-backs Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique seemed to be wing-backs initially, supporting the young wing duo whenever possible.
Gerrard’s opening goal was very much his own doing. Dummying a pass from the left wing, Allen picked it up and drove forward. Credit must be given to Allen for the way he picked Gerrard’s ghosting forward movement, where no opposing midfielder picked up on. To the naked eye it would seem Allen was trying to find Borini at first, but on closer inspection and after another highlight angle would we actually find Allen spotting Gerrard’s run, and hitting a nicely weighted through pass for the captain to slide-foot home. The skipper’s intelligence and knack for getting into the opposition area is not waning, just yet.
Contrasting fortunes for two youngsters so far
Andre Wisdom, another academy product who got a dozen first-team appearances last season, got the nod to partner Martin Skrtel in central defence. It was probably also due to the fact that Rodgers does not really trust Seb Coates alongside Skrtel anymore, after the duos miserable showing against Oldham and Matt Smith in the League Cup last season. Wisdom looked composed with his touches, and even when the opposing forwards tried to close him down quickly, he showed decent dribbling and shielding ability before laying the ball off once he got the chance. Defensively solid, his move to central defence next season could be why Rodgers isn’t in a rush to sign another centre-back just yet. Both Rodgers and Wisdom both realise next season could be the latter’s make-it-or-break-it season. If Wisdom can prove to be reliable back-up to Kolo Toure, Dan Agger and Skrtel – especially if Coates or even Skrtel leaves, Wisdom will certainly have a bright future at the club. If he does not improve next campaign, Wisdom will probably require loan spells to give him any chance of staking any sort of claim in the future.
Much has been on Borini’s shoulder since he arrived at Liverpool, and this pre-season, he isn’t getting it any better. Without a goal in three friendlies yet, he seems to be under a huge burden to get one, as soon as possible. However, one must note, he rarely gets to play behind a playmaker. It may just be his luck, but he never seems to have either Philippe Coutinho or new signing Luis Alberto behind him. In this match, he had Jordan Henderson in the hole, and no disrespect to Henderson, but threading through passes is not the Englishman’s forte. I do believe though, that once Borini gets a break, and a goal to boot, he will start to kick off. His talent is undeniable, with a fierce shot and an impressive overhead kick that just missed the target during the game evident that he has the potential to improve. And also important to note was that Borini had a few good touches in deeper areas to bring his wingers and Henderson into play, which must not be discounted due to the way Rodgers sets out his sides to play, as even the forward must contribute to the build-up.
Finding a solution for Suarez
Another point to note is definitely Allen and Suarez’s return. As mentioned earlier Allen had the assist for Gerrard’s opener, but more than that he started to show why he could be an asset again next season. The diminutive Welshman got right in when needed, not afraid to tackle, but he also combined his obvious short-passing talents with occasional long balls out to the flanks when required. And to the biggest headliner in Liverpool’s number seven, although he did got an impressive assist for new signing Iago Aspas in the second last kick of the game, Suarez’s body language reminds one of Fernando Torres’ last days at the club. He looked disgruntled, even while displaying his famous sublime footwork, and was not even smiling during Aspas’ goal celebration.
One thing’s for certain, Liverpool need to sort Suarez’s future out as soon as they can, so they can fully focus on the remainder of pre-season and the start of the new campaign. Whether it is reinvesting in a new forward or getting Suarez to commit to the Liverpool cause, only by finding a solution to the Suarez conundrum fast enough will the Reds early pre-season form carry into the start of next season. And I am sure Rodgers would want more than two points from the first five games next term.