Liverpool’s pre-season tour of America came to an end on Saturday as they met Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspurs in front of a decent sized crowd at the magnificent M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.
Neither team could be described as being at full strength with several key players from both teams being absent for a variety of reasons. The teams played out a 0-0 draw which was a fair result as neither team could be said to have stood out as being superior on the day.
The Liverpool Word asked five of its writers (Michael Luscombe, Matt Volpi, Dave Hendrick, Karl Matchett, and Michael Kline) their opinions on the game, the players and the overall approach of Liverpool after the game.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Jones; Flanagan, Skrtel, Carragher, Jose Enrique; Spearing, Shelvey, Adam; Cole, Downing, Morgan.
1) What positives can we take from the draw with Spurs, and what negatives stood out for you?
Matt: I think the main positive from the match is that we matched a fairly strong spurs side. Considering we were up against the likes of Bale, Gallas, Lennon, Kaboul and other first team players, the players on the pitch certainly did themselves credit. Although the football(Or lack thereof) was a little disappointing in the first half, we definitely looked like we could snatch it in the second. The desire from the players was a real credit to the side, and some of the quality on show from 3rd/4th choice players in their positions going against experienced premier league stars was a good sign for the depth in our squad for next season, which is something we’ve struggled with for years. I think we’ll be happy to take draws against Tottenham next season, and although a pre-season friendly can never fully indicate what is to come, there were certainly positive signs that we have enough quality in our squad to get results without the main men.
Michael K: Honestly, not too many positives stood out to me in the match against Spurs. The overall decision making was still poor and the quality of play was very sloppy at times, but the squad managed to hold their own against a more than capable Tottenham side. It’s clear to me that Brendan Rodgers still has a ways to go before Liverpool can compete for top 4.
Karl: Nothing in particular from this game except the usual pre-season targets of increased fitness and minutes, and obviously the return of some of the first team players. There were one or two decent individual performances in the second half and it was us rather than Spurs who took control of the game as it went on, which is a plus, but not much can be read into it given the players on display for both sides. Negatives, only really the lack of pressing and general energy on the day, which is no doubt due to the exertions during the tour and the heat. Nothing too untoward.
Michael L: The main positive for me was the midfield dynamic of Henderson, Gerrard and Lucas. Obviously, it is their first game together under Rodgers and we likely saw a very rusty version of the finish article, however, there were signs that this trio could really blossom under Rodgers as they all have the necessary attributes to perform in this ‘tika taka’ style. In the first half the midfield looked scared to offer for the ball under pressure but this changed in the second half as all of these three are comfortable under pressure, can pick a pass and have the necessary work ethic and tactical intelligence to play the pressing game. Negatives for me include Joe Cole’s inability to make any stamp on the game and the midfield duo of Jay Spearing & Charlie Adam.
Dave: Positives were Morgan getting a decent run and not looking out of place. Sharp movement, decent link play and he worked hard. Also Robinson’s performance in the second half which was excellent. It was good to see Lucas get some more minutes under his belt as well, the sooner he’s back the better. For me this match was about getting players minutes on the pitch and it worked out well, especially given we say the first appearance of Borini as a Red.
Negatives were the presence once again of Spearing, Adam and Cole in the starting 11. Three players with no business being at Liverpool but thanks to the squad Rodgers inherited, he has little choice right now but to play them. Andy Carroll looking like he’d forgotten how to play to play football. Gave the ball away so poorly almost every time it found its way to him.
2) Which player impressed you most in each half tonight?
Matt: I found the first half rather disappointing. Liverpool struggled to gain any rhythm whatsoever and there weren’t too many positive moves being put together. However I thought Shelvey stood out, as he has all pre-season, as a real figure of leadership in the midfield. He certainly has a maturity beyond his years and his versatility certainly throws opposition defences. I also thought Joe Cole put in a decent shift. People have been judging him on predetermined faults but I think his general fitness, speed and link up play has really come on since his last season at Anfield. In the second half, I thought the introduction of Henderson really signalled a change in gear for the side. He has a marvellous engine on him and great decision making when on the ball in tight situations. He also seems to have improved his tackling and defensive skills which bodes well for him next season. If he can gain confidence and be allowed to show it, I think he could be a big surprise to many who had written him off next season.
Michael K: In the first half, Martin Skrtel was the clear standout for me, although I don’t think anyone performed as well as Brad Jones’ hair did. The Slovakian defender was very confident on the ball, asserted himself on defense and even pushed forward adequately at times. Adam Morgan also performed well. His off the ball movement was excellent for me. In the second half, I was very pleased with Jordan Henderson’s play. He completed high percentage passes and kept the ball moving. He also inserted a bit of creativity into the side. Fabio Borini and Andy Carroll both also came on in the second half, and I think both had good off the ball movement, although Carroll didn’t play particularly well (what I was expecting, to be honest – he needs more time under Rodgers before I can make a judgement on him).
Karl: I’ll say Stewart Downing from the first half, who looked direct and put a couple of decent crosses in from the right, in the second half of the first 45. Overall it was very low key though, without a real standout player. In the second 45, I was impressed with Jack Robinson and Peter Gulacsi, who was safe on the ball and has very good distribution. He deserves a chance in the cups this season if he’s not sent out on loan again. Robinson looks to be growing in strength and stature; could add a good depth to our defence on the left this season.
Michael L: I’m not the biggest fan of Adam Morgan as I think his all round game is lacking, however his movement and work rate really impressed me. He made some very clever runs and on another day could have scored a couple of goals. I also liked the fact he wasn’t afraid to drop deep and show for the ball, although his first touch did let him down under pressure – something that he needs to work on.
In the second half I was really impressed with Jack Robinson, Liverpool’s youngest ever looked out of sorts at the recent U19 European Championships but was back to something like his best against Tottemham. He defended very well and his positioning was much better than Enrique’s has been over the tour. Importantly, he also offered something going forward as was demonstrated when Gerrard picked him out with a sublime pass and Robinson was unlucky that his pass to Carroll didn’t quite come off. He looks as if last years injuries have taken a toll on his pace but hopefully given an injury free year that will return and Rodgers will give him the opportunity to really challenge Enrique for his place.
Dave: Nobody really stood out in the first half to me. I’ll say Morgan was the one who impressed me most but I thought across the board it was a fairly harmless affair, from both sides. Adam’s tackle on Bale was the only noteworthy moment of the first half. Jack Robinson stood out in the second half, I thought he was excellent. I thought both Sama and Wilson looked good at centreback.
3) Which 3 players impressed most over the three games of the tour?
Matt: Jonjo Shelvey is the first, and this is mostly on the basis of his performance against Roma. It’s very rare to see a young man play with such authority and confidence. He has really looked like he’s been leading the team for large parts of the tour. As I said, he has a great range of talent, his distribution is excellent, he can run with the ball, and he finds space well. His desire and determination in the tackle has also been a great example for youngsters pushing for a first team place throughout pre-season. Raheem Sterling has also been impressive, although his final ball often lets him down. Obviously he is electric and unpredictable on the ball, and got a great assist against Toronto. However, against Spurs he won the ball back several times with really hard work and tenacious tackling. He still has a lot of growing up to do and has to keep a cool head when in the final third, but I can see him making an impact from the bench a couple of times next season. I’ve also been impressed with Aquilani. As expected, he is quite the footballer, and his decision making when it comes to passing is excellent. He’s really great to watch and seems to have the ability to find a man no matter what situation he is in. I think most Liverpool fans will be hoping he gets a chance to prove himself next season.
Michael K: For me, the top three players in the preseason were Alberto Aquilani, Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel. Alberto Aquilani did his job every time he was on the pitch: complete passes and keep the ball moving. Raheem Sterling’s developmental progress surprised me and I was very impressed with his confidence and presence on the ball. A loan move would be in his best interest since at this point he seems to have the physical skills to compete, but lacks knowledge and the ability to read the game appropriately. Martin Skrtel was the obvious rock in defense and brought leadership and direction to a young back-line. Nothing surprising from him, but reassuring that we have him in defense.
Karl: Jonjo Shelvey was the stand out for me in terms of application and attitude. Really seemed to go for it in the first two games especially; wasn’t always the right decision but he was positive and hard working. Lucas Leiva, despite clearly being short of fitness and sharpness, is obviously still really calm on the ball and isn’t going to shirk challenges. I don’t think it will be long before he’s starting games for the Reds. I’m sure Raheem Sterling will get mentioned elsewhere so for my third I’ll pick Jamie Carragher. It was said in several quarters that he has no place under Brendan Rodgers, but he has shown he can play the ball easily into midfield without launching it from afar, is still solid in the tackle and can still offer a good back-up option for the Reds. He’ll come in valuable as the season goes on I’m sure.
Michael L: Raheem Sterling: Sterling has impressed me as, like Rodgers recently said, his all round game has shown a noticeable development in terms of tactical discipline. There were occasions when previously he would have run at his full back when he would probably have been surrounded and would have lost the ball but he has learned when to value possession over being creative. His first touch has at times been sublime and his pace is frightening. I think it’s important that he’s protected this season as he is only 17 but at the same time he is good enough and is perfect for the wing/forward role and so I would hope that he appears in every cup game as well as given a few chances in the Premier League.
Dani Pacheco: Pacheco has shown a side of his game that I didn’t think he had, the ability to beat a full back, and has played with a passion that is really good to see. He clearly has all of the technical ability in the world and he is a clever player so it is possible he could make an impact this season, although this remains to be seen. He has looked a threat on the left hand side and his work rate and ability to press have also stood out.
Jonjo Shelvey: Shelvey, particularly against Roma, has shown a lot of ability in the pre season tour. He has shown great passing ability and hasn’t been fazed by receiving the ball under pressure, as well as looking threatening going forward. His footwork has been impressive and his has all of the confidence in the world. He’s nowhere near the finished article but there is definitely a potentially very good player in him.
Dave: Aquilani stood out head and shoulders above everyone in the first two matches for me but it appears he’s going to be sold to Fiorentina so I’ll leave him out.
Jonjo Shelvey attitude and work rate really impressed me across the three games. I don’t think he badly terrible well in any of them as he was quite wasteful with the ball and made a number of bad decisions but he put in the effort every time and when he starts to learn to play within his own limitations his talents will really develop and he’ll become a very good player someday. I think a season on loan would do him the world of good. A manager like Martin O’Neill would be beneficial to Shelvey as he would get him to focus on doing the simple things right and making better decisions. Rodgers could do the same, but Shelvey would benefit more from starting for someone like Sunderland than he would from sitting on the Liverpool bench.
Jack Robinson is simply the best young left back in England. Like Michael L mentioned he had a bit of a rough time recently on the international scene but to me he appeared to be a bit rusty. He looked more like himself on this tour and for me, he’s going to be Liverpool’s first choice left back by the end of the coming season.
Suso impressed me with his movement, touch and vision. His passing is excellent and he really seems to have a good attitude and hard work doesn’t phase him. That he came on the tour and was able to play in the first match having played so well in the U19’s tells you all you need to know about the kid. He most likely could have had some time off if he’d asked for it but wasn’t interested in that. Great attitude, excellent prospect.
I’d also like to give a mention to young McLaughlin who I thought was excellent against Roma. Shame we didn’t get to see more of him.
4) Which 3 players stood out to you as not being good enough to carry with us into the season?
Matt: Charlie Adam has really not changed his game. Considering he is likely to be used in a defensive midfield role, I find it horrifying how poor his tackling ability is. The Hollywood passes also give away possession when the team are building a move nicely, and I can’t see how he is going to fit into a Liverpool side based on quick movement, accurate passing and high pressing. Jay Spearing is also a worry. As much as I commend the lad for his enthusiasm and passion, he is a bit like a headless chicken. He also fails miserably when he tries to stretch himself beyond a ten yard pass. First he must accept his limitations when it comes to passing the ball, then he must look to improve. The other player that has disappointed me is Jose Enrique. I find myself screaming wildly at him when he refuses to take the simple passing option. Against Toronto he was constantly exposed for his bad positioning, and when it comes to delivering crosses he has failed miserably to provide. He just doesn’t seem to have that natural instinct to make a decision before the ball comes to him, and without improving on that, he could be a real weak link next season.
Michael K: Jay Spearing, Charlie Adam and Joe Cole don’t look up to the part, for me. I have expressed my frustrations with Spearing before. I just don’t think he is top-half of the table quality. At this point, I don’t see where he fits into the squad. He has little confidence and is an average tackler, at best. He lacks good ball-winning skills, and his passing just simply isn’t good enough. It seems Rodgers’ might be trying shape him into a Joe Allen mold, but I don’t think it’s possible. Charlie Adam is completely hopeless in my opinion. He is an absolute loose canon, and can’t be relied upon as a starter or backup. Some games he might put in a good shift, but others he completely disrupts Liverpool’s quality of play. Finally, Joe Cole still has legs, and some ability, but I don’t think he is what the squad needs. He might be a vocal leader in the dressing room, but I think a certain Jamaican-born winger could perform his role as good, or better, than Joe Cole, while also bringing tremendous upside and future potential.
Karl: For three different reasons: Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing and Danny Wilson. Adam just doesn’t offer enough quality, patience or cleverness on the ball and in a midfield three which will be required to dominate play, falls short defensively and in the attacking third. In the “second “ central midfield position, which is where he would be most effective, he is behind Alberto Aquilani and Jordan Henderson. Jay Spearing is a decent player, but he’s not a defensive midfielder. He’s a different kind of player to Adam but would play in the same position, second centre midfielder. He doesn’t retain the ball well enough to play in the key defensive midfield position and doesn’t have an appreciation of space like Lucas does. For Wilson, he needs to go out on loan and improve drastically. He’s well behind Martin Kelly, Sebastian Coates and the three senior centre-backs, and arguably Stephen Sama and Andre Wisdom have assets over him too. He’s certainly not a left back but doesn’t look close to making it in the middle at the moment.
Michael L: Nathan Eccleston – At 21 I think it is fair to say if he was ever going to be good enough for Liverpool, he would have made it by now. At 18 Michael Owen was scoring a wonder goal in the world cup, at 21 Eccleston is struggling to showcase his ability in a pre-season friendly. He obviously has pace, quick feet and he can finish, three attributes which show why Liverpool have perservered with him for so long, however I think, for his sake especially, it is time he moved on, probably to a lower league club where he will get regular football so he can try and forge a proper career instead of stagnating in the reserves with 18 year olds.
Jay Spearing – Unfortunately for Jay, he just does not have the technical ability to be good enough cover for Lucas, the gulf in class between the two is just too much. He is good enough for the Premier League, but not for Liverpool and not in a Rodgers team. He too often misplaces passes when he isn’t under pressure and doesn’t have enough ability to for his team mates to be confident enough in him to pass to him in tight situations. Hopefully Jay Spearing can find a bottom half Premier League club where he can start every week and Liverpool can replace him with younger, but technically better defensive midfielder.
Charlie Adam – Adam is a bit of an enigma. Sometimes he’ll pick out a brilliant pass which you applaud and sometimes he hits a bullet into the bottom corner from outside the box. However, all too often he misplaces a difficult pass when he should have kept it simple and all too often he gets caught in possession before making a rash challenge on the player who has dispossessed him of the ball. He has a lot of ability but he needs to be carried by the team and it is no coincidence that without Lucas beside him his weaknesses are shown up. Replacing him with Joe Allen would represent good business for Liverpool.
Dave: I’d go with the same trio as Michael L. Adam, Spearing and Eccleston.
Adam simply isn’t good enough to be playing for a team with ambitions of top 4 and beyond. He was bought for his set piece delivery and to provide service for Carroll but Carroll is on his way out and the set pieces have been garbage. That we signed him rather than Cabaye, or simply keeping Aquilani, is further evidence of the poor decision making by Dalglish and Comolli last summer. Finding a buyer might not be as easy as people seem to think but I’m sure Liverpool will accept what they paid or slightly less and he’d be a good fit somewhere.
Spearing’s a good lad who gives his all but really isn’t a Premier League calibre player. I’m a bit worried that Spearing might now think quite highly of himself on the basis on Dalglish playing him so often last season and the season before as I seem to remember him refusing a loan move last summer as well as making comments about wanting to nail down a starting role at the beginning of the summer. If he wasn’t a local lad and if he didn’t work so hard, I don’t think he’d have lasted this long at the club, better local talents haven’t gotten as far as him at Liverpool but there’s no place for sentiment now, and hard work isn’t enough with the required level of ability. Time for Jay to find a new club.
I’ve never been a fan of Eccleston and I’ve seen nothing on this trip to change my mind. Simply doesn’t have the ability to be a senior player at Liverpool. I think, at best, he’s a League One player.
5) From the current squad, taking into account fitness and injuries, what would your starting 11 before in the Europa League next week?
Matt: Brad Jones is a safe bet in goal, and I’d like to see a back four of Kelly, Skrtel, Agger and Robinson. As for the midfield, Shelvey is a must. Alongside him I would stick Henderson and one other*. For the front three I would hope to play Borini, Sterling and Joe Cole, considering the fact that Eccleston and Morgan, although very willing, are a long way away from being good enough.
Michael K: I would start as much of the first-team as possible, bringing the rest in in the second half. My team would consist of: Reina, Flanagan, Skrtel, Carragher, Enrique, Spearing, Henderson, Shelvey, Downing, Carroll, Borini. I think Downing, Carroll and Borini give us the best chance of scoring (by far) than any other combination of forwards on the team. The only other combination I can think of would be either Downing, Borini, Cole or Sterling, Carroll, Borini. Lucas, along with Gerrard and Sterling (depending on how the match goes), would be brought on around the 65th minute.
Karl: Presuming none of them have been moved on in the next few days:
Brad Jones, Jon Flanagan, Jose Enrique, Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher; Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey, Charlie Adam; Joe Cole, Raheem Sterling, Nathan Eccleston.
I’d expect at least three, and up to six, of those players to have left the club by September, either permanently or on loan. If he does start, I’d really class it as “last chance saloon” for striker Eccleston, who has shown nothing to suggest he’s good enough to play for Liverpool.
Michael L: Gulacsi – McLaughlin Skrtel Carragher Enrique – Henderson Shelvey plus 1*- Pacheco Borini Sterling
Dave: Jones in goal, I think he deserves the start and he’s the best distributor of the keepers not named Reina. Flanagan, Skrtel, Carragher, Robinson would be my back four. I’d quite like to see McLaughlin start but think Flanagan will get the nod. I’d go with Shelvey and Henderson in the two deeper midfield roles with Suso in the attacking one. Downing and Sterling would be my picks on the wing, and Borini would start centre forward for me.
*Both Matt and Michael L had selected Aquilani having submitted their responses before news broke of the apparent deal with Fiorentina