Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Singapore 0 Liverpool 5

Pre-Season Match 2009

The Main (Stand) Man has finally returned from Singapore and his own Far East tour, so enjoy his educational report of Sunday's Pre-Season game:

Again humid conditions greeted the Liverpool players as they took the field for the second game of the ‘Kop Comes To Asia’ tour, meaning another good workout for the team before their return to England. A good sized and enthusiastic crowd was present, with the vast majority draped in red although this, it must be said, is also the colour of the Singapore side, leaving Liverpool to play in their black and gold away kit. Rafael Benitez went for a strong side with plenty of first team experience, including players such as Carragher, Mascherano, Agger, Lucas, Babel and Benayoun, whilst there was still some representation from the younger members of the squad in Ngog and San Jose.

The game began with Liverpool, as should be expected at this stage of the pre-season, dominating possession although again the first ten minutes saw them worryingly unable to provide too much penetration. As might be expected, the strong line-up was able to subdue the Singapore side relatively easily, but it took until the 10th minute for Liverpool to really threaten. The ball was sent out to Benayoun on the right flank, and a pinpoint cross found Babel in the area. The Dutchman, though, was too static and his header was too weak and directed straight into the arms of the Singapore goalkeeper. In the 21st minute, Liverpool again came forward and, thanks to some woeful control by the keeper, were able to gain a fortunate corner kick. The set-piece itself was headed clear but as the ball was pumped back into the box, Ngog fooled the defender with a deft bit of control, but could not steer the ball back across the goal for the waiting Voronin.

The reds began to make more of their possession pay following that, often working the ball well down either flank and looking for late runs into the penalty area from the midfield. A particularly pleasing aspect to the play was the running of Lucas, showing signs of continuing with the confident form he was able to display towards the end of last season. It was his run and pass after 25 minutes that almost set Ngog clean through on goal, but a questionable flag from the referee’s assistant made the keeper’s eventual save irrelevant. A worrying moment occurred shortly afterwards, with Agger falling heavily after being ‘tipped’ whilst in the air going for a header. With Martin Skrtel already out for three weeks, Benitez can ill afford injuries to either Carragher or Agger at this point, particularly with no Sami Hyypia to provide cover.

The game began to drift again, though, with no more chances created until the half was all but over. With the stubborn Singapore defence again providing a strong challenge, the ball fell to Voronin about ten yards outside the penalty area. Following a shimmy to get himself past two defenders, the Ukrainian forward took a speculative shot towards goal. It was deflected from its original course and the despairing dive of the Singapore keeper was not enough to prevent the effort from trickling into the bottom corner of the net to put Liverpool one up.

The goal masked another half of worrying lack of creativity, although to be fair the reds had dominated possession and just about deserved, on the balance of play, to go in ahead. Rafa made just three substitutions during the break, with most of the Spanish nationals were left on the bench for the restart given the shorter time they had been back in training. Gulacsi replaced Cavalieri in goal, Emiliano Insua replaced Mikel San Jose and Albert Riera was brought on for Ryan Babel on the left wing.

The first effort of the second half took seven minutes to materialise. Some good control from an impressive David Ngog allowed him to turn and pass to Benayoun. The Israeli’s mind, however, was not made up as to whether to shoot or cross and his effort drifted ineffectually over the bar. The reds soon began to press forward with more urgency than in the first half and shortly extended their advantage with an excellent move. Lucas played the ball back to Mascherano on the right hand side, and the little Argentinian was able to look up and float a pinpoint cross to Riera on the far side. He controlled brilliantly on his chest and flashed a left foot shot underneath the oncoming goalkeeper, leaving the net bulging.

Liverpool were now running the show, and the noise of the crowd was amplified by the sight of Fernando Torres warming up on the touchline. The absence of Steven Gerrard has been noted by some, given his involvement on the advertising for the tour, but the Spaniard has earned himself his own level of worship from the Asian crowds. Again Lucas turned provider as the threaded a ball through for Benayoun, but his delicate chip to the far post found no-one their to convert.

On the hour mark, Benitez decided to shuffle the pack. On came Spearing, Torres, Kuyt, Plessis, Nemeth, Pacheco and Kelly, with the likes of Benayoun, Carragher, Ngog and Voronin making way. Torres was soon causing concern for the Singapore defence, although he was just unable to get a pass from Pacheco out of his feet quickly enough to get a decent shot on target. A cross from Spearing then almost let Torres in for an easy goal, but an excellent touch from the defender just took the ball away from the Spaniard.

The third goal, though, was not long in coming. Dirk Kuyt pounced on a wayward defensive header to advance on the Singapore goal. His simple ball across to the penalty spot found Nemeth piling forward, and the youngster put a side-footed shot wide of the keeper’s dive for his first of pre-season. This brought about the final changes of the match from Benitez, and one of the most notable. Xabi Alonso was introduced onto the pitch for what any sane Liverpool fan will hope is not one of his last appearances, and the fans in the stadium wasted no time in letting him know how much they want him to stay at the club. He was joined by Dossena and Pepe Reina on the field.

With ten minutes remaining, Kuyt again turned provider for the goal that the crowd really wanted to see. Nemeth’s quick thinking found the Dutchman clear of the full back’s attentions, and his slotted ball across the edge of the six yard box was side footed home by Fernando Torres with the keeper stranded at the near post. The fifth for Liverpool arrived with eight minutes left of the 90, and Kuyt again played a major part. Pacheco found himself with the ball on the edge of the area as Singapore struggled to clear. He found Kuyt just inside the box, whose cross was headed home by Nemeth for his second of the night.

Kuyt could have had one of his own shortly afterwards. Some more woeful defending left him ten yards out, but his well struck effort was straight at the goalkeeper. As the clock passed the 90 minute mark, Torres again threatened but his shot was deflected into the ground off the leg of a defender and ended up going over the crossbar. With the reds bypassing the Singapore back line at will, the referee decided that enough injury time had been played and blew the final whistle for a well-deserved 5-0 triumph.

Three highlights stand out from the game for me. Firstly, and possibly most importantly for our prospects of silverware during the upcoming season, was the appearance of Alonso in a Liverpool shirt again. A post match press conference from Rafa indicated that Xabi will have to request a transfer if he truly wants to go to Madrid. We should all hope this does not happen.

Secondly, the performance of Lucas Leiva gave real hints at his improvement. The more collected manner of his performances towards the end of last season was mirrored during this encounter, and it is my belief that he is finally starting to play the game in the same way that he does when captaining the Brazil Under-21 side. His composure and willingness to play the easy ball, whilst being able to find space during a difficult first half, showed what he is capable of in the centre of midfield. I’m still not a fully paid up member of his fan club, but credit where its due and let’s hope he can continue to improve from this point on.

Finally, the domination of the game from Dirk Kuyt, having pulled on the captain’s armband when entering the game, was outstanding. His positional sense, passing acumen and ability to bring other players into the game should be a real asset to the side as we attempt to bring the league back to Anfield.

Overall, then, a good night for the reds before they returned to home shores following the game. They then fly out to Spain to face Espanyol on Sunday, before fixtures against FC Lyn and Atletico Madrid to take us into the new campaign.

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