Monday, 20 July 2009

Rapid Vienna 1 - Liverpool 0

Pre-Season Match 2009

The Main (Stand) Man Match Report:

Another full house in Austria for the reds visit to play a club who unfortunately once lost a European Cup Winners Cup Final against Everton. Again Liverpool fielded some of the up and coming talent from the reserve team squad in addition to some more familiar faces. Daniel Ayala was selected to partner JC at the heart of the defence, with Insua and Degen completing the back four. Gerrard was this time accompanied by Damien Plessis in the centre of midfield, flanked by Babel and El Zhar. The same combination began up front as started the St. Gallen match, namely Voronin and Nemeth.

As with the match on Wednesday night, the reds began brightly and soon carved out their first chance. Just three minutes were on the clock when El Zhar found space on the right and crossed for Nemeth, however the young striker could not make the required contact in front of goal.

Liverpool were then saved by the flag of the referee’s assistant. A ricochet took the ball in behind the Liverpool defence and Hoffer was the first to react. His shot flashed past the advancing Cavalieri and hit the back of the net but the home supporters’ joy was shorted lived. The game then descended into some scrappy midfield play, although with the reds full backs looking to get forward, the two centre halves were in danger of being exposed by the energetic Vienna strikers. Liverpool were now offering little in attack, with Voronin and Nemeth being hustled off the ball too easily by the home defence, although the midfield was not giving them the required service with possession being surrendered weakly. With the presence of the returning Spanish armada on the bench, some of the opportunities for the younger players to make an impression may be limited during the upcoming friendlies in the Far East, and yet no-one seemed to be really set on making a name for themselves. Some solid defending by Ayala proved to be the only high point throughout the team in the first half hour.

Gerrard then began to exert his influence on the game, some typically surging runs beginning to hint at a better spell for Liverpool without a definitive end product. However, the half time whistle arrived with just one more significant chance having been created. Again the reds were on the wrong side of an unfortunate bounce in their own penalty area. The ball fell to Hoffer who rushed his shot as Cavalieri advanced having reacted quickly.

The Rapid Vienna management team would have been happier with their side’s performance than their Liverpool counterparts. It should be noted, however, that the Austrian side have already played some competitive football, the qualification round for the Europa Cup, and so perhaps Benitez and co would have been expecting to be under pressure for periods of the game. Another wholesale set of substitutions at half time saw only Insua and Degen reappear for the second 45 minutes, their continued presence largely necessitated by slight injuries to Glen Johnson and Stephen Darby. Lucas, Kuyt, Benayoun and Skrtel were again joined by the likes of Spearing, Pacheco, Ngog and Kelly.

The home side started the brighter of the two teams in the second half, with some neat one touch passing threatening to break through the Liverpool back line. Skrtel was soon called upon to put in a last ditch tackle to prevent Hoffer going clear again, showing the tenacity which has put him ahead of Agger in Benitez’ plans over the last year. With ten minutes gone in the half, Vienna implemented their own mass-replacement exercise, six players being changed at one time including the goalkeeper who had lamentably little to do in his time on the pitch. The changes took immediate effect, with the home side going ahead in the 58th minute. A freekick on the edge of the penalty area was taken by Hoffer, and as the ball went round the Liverpool wall it seemed that Gulacsi would have it covered. However, the ball skipped up off the turf and went over his hands into the far corner of the net. With a spring in their step, Rapid went looking for a second and had another effort ruled within two minutes. Replays showed that two Vienna players were at least two yards offside when the ball was played across, and the flag went up accordingly.

An easy save from a Benayoun free kick was the only real action for the Rapid Vienna keeper, and before long Rafa saw fit to replace Degen and Insua. One of the oncoming substitutes was Javier Mascherano, a sight which will no doubt be welcomed by all Liverpool supporters after a summer of media speculation about a move to the Nou Camp. Spearing was moved to full back along with Mikel San Jose who was also brought on, leaving only Martin Skrtel with any real experience in the back four.

Some good interchanges in the midfield led to a half chance for Kuyt in the 71st minute. The ball fell to him wide of the goal and for a moment it seemed that he was in the clear. An excellent piece of recovery, however, allowed Rapid to hurry Kuyt and his shot hit the side netting. Pacheco was looking like the only player with the capability to really challenge the Rapid defence, however, his quick feet allowing him to twist and turn inside the box but his shot struck the leg of a defender and rebounded to safety.

The final ten minutes went by with just one more opportunity for the reds to draw themselves level. Excellent work from Pacheco set Kuyt free down the right hand side. Had he been able to find a more accurate ball into the middle, David Ngog was in position for an easy finish. As with so often during the overall match, though, the pass was easily blocked and the danger passed with no equaliser.

As the final whistle was blown, many reds fans will have been wondering, given the lack of clear chances that have been created during the two matches so far, about the need for more experienced cover to be brought in for Fernando Torres. As our only recognised out-and-out striker likely to score 20 goals a season, the non-performance of the likes of Voronin, Nemeth, and Ngog will be causing many a brow to furrow as we find ourselves a little over three weeks before the start of the new Premier League season. Of course, the absence thus far of recognised internationals such as Arbeloa, Aurelio, Torres and of course Xabi Alonso should, if they all stay at the club, improve the overall team performances dramatically. Alonso’s own transfer saga needs to be put to bed as soon as possible by Benitez, hopefully culminating in him remaining at the club. His presence should return the team to the same kind of creative, forward looking outfit that finished last season so strongly. The reds fly off to the far east this evening to face the Thai national side, currently managed by ex-bluenose Peter Reid, on Wednesday.

Match time and date: KO 18:15 (UK). 19 July 2009

Goals: Hoffmann, 58

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