Thursday, 16 July 2009

St. Gallen 0 Liverpool 0

Pre-Season Match 2009

The Main (Stand) Man has delivered his always insightful match report for last nights pre-season friendly. Read on:

The pre-season began tonight in a sunbathed St.Gallen, Switzerland with a capacity crowd and the travelling reds fans in good voice. Rafael Benitez selected a starting line-up with a good mix of youth and experience, with the likes of Mikel San Jose, Jay Spearing and Kristian Nemeth taking the field alongside the likes of Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and the returning Andriy Voronin and Phillipe Degen, who will be looking to re-establish themselves within the squad following a year on loan and long term injury respectively.

Liverpool began the game quickly, with brisk passing movements accompanied by some strong forward running from the midfield by Gerrard and Ryan Babel. It was the Dutchman, in fact, whose jinking run gained a freekick just outside the opposition box after four minutes, although the resultant shots on goal from Gerrard were easily dealt with by the home defence. Shortly afterwards, some hesitant defending allowed Nemeth to get deep inside the penalty area, but the ball dropped just too far in front of him and the stretched shot was sent wide by the goalkeeper.

The reds were able to settle into their rhythm surprisingly early for the first game of the pre-season, and it took until the 15th minute for the home side to offer anything of note going forward. Some slick interchanges down the right flank allowed the Frei to get to the byline and cut the ball back, but the danger was well anticipated by Phillipe Degen who cleared. The Liverpool defence was caught short again within the next five minutes, a poorly hit cross somehow finding its way across the six yard box. With only Diego Cavalieri to beat, the effort was hurried and brushed the outside of the post.

There was little more of note until the reds defence again came under pressure just after the half hour mark. A disputable freekick awarded to St. Gallen was swung deep to the Liverpool back post. The ball was nodded back across the face of goal and Carragher had to be sharp to clear the ball over the bar before any of the St. Gallen forward line could tap home. Jay Spearing began to see more of the ball during the period that followed, playing in a holding midfield role as well as looking to get forward. The young midfielder was the focal point for many of the passing moves, although little penetration was found as the reds continued to look for the intricate final ball too often. St. Gallen had a goal from Costanza ruled out for offside with 5 minutes remaining in the half, again finding the Liverpool defence a little static before the final ball was delayed a fraction too much.

All in all, the first half proved typical of so many early pre-season friendlies, with some good effort but little of note to show for it. Degen and Insua showed good energy to get forward but on too many occasions the crossing was ineffectual against a tall St.Gallen backline. The midfield huffed and puffed but overall the passing from Gerrard, Babel and co was not of the required standard to trouble the home side, who in fact finished the half stronger than their visitors.

As most people would have predicted before the match began, the team that emerged for the second half bore little resemblance to that of the first half, despite the continued absence of the Spanish contingent following their efforts in the Confederations Cup during the summer. A debut appearance for Glen Johnson, a new centre back partnership of Skrtel and Martin Kelly, and the introduction of some more established first-teamers in Lucas, Benayoun and Kuyt were complemented with more promising talent in the form of Damien Plessis, David Ngog, Stephen Darby Daniel Pacheco, and David Martin in goal.

The half began in much the same way as the first, with some incisive passing from the reds, although within five minutes the reds had managed their best chance of the match. A clever ball found Glen Johnson bursting through into the box, but he dragged his shot wide from about ten yards. A great first-time throughball from Kuyt then encouraged Pacheco to surge forward, only to be robbed of the ball as he twisted and turned inside the box looking for an angle.

Benayoun was the next to threaten, a pass from Pacheco finding him on the edge of the box. After a trademark turn, he shot high and the ball was turned over the bar by the St. Gallen keeper. A glimpse of the future was the next moment of note, a thunderous but entirely fair challenge from Martin Kelly calling an abrupt end to a run from Pamarou. Again Johnson then came forward, turning inside onto his right foot on the angle of the penalty box. His delicate cross looked tantalising but unfortunately none of the Liverpool forward line had gambled and the ball drifted wide for a goal kick.

A flowing move at speed from their own corner flag then enabled Liverpool to create their next chance. Johnson, Benayoun and Pacheco opened up the home midfield and surged forward looking for an opener. Perhaps inexperience meant that Pacheco chose not to play Benayoun in on goal, but he opted for the shot himself which deflected off a defender and created an awkward save for the St. Gallen goalkeeper.

Liverpool were looking far more comfortable at the back than they had in the first 45 minutes, which had the effect of allowing some creative and penetrating moves from the reds further up the pitch. A couple more youngsters in Ayala and Gulacsi were introduced with ten minutes remaining, a move in all probability decided prior to kick off. Yet again Johnson turned provider, some neat passing creating space for him on the left hand side of the opposition goal. Another teasing cross almost found Lucas flying in at the far post, but his dive was in vain and the ball rolled out for a throw in.

The pace of the game began to slow, with both sides looking more and more tired as the clock ticked into the final five minutes, hardly surprising at this stage particularly with young players. However, there was still time for the home team to create the best chance of the entire game, as a curled centre found Frick totally unmarked in the Liverpool area. Perhaps surprised at the abundance of time he had to pick his spot, the Swiss forward contrived to direct his header agonisingly wide of the upright. Another cross shortly afterwards required Dirk Kuyt, typically energetic having tracked back from the opposition half, to divert the ball away from Pamarou who was lurking dangerously at the back post. There was still time for Benayoun, pouncing on a wayward clearance, to fire a fierce volley towards the St. Gallen net, only for the keeper to pull off a decent save.

The final whistle confirmed the stalemate, with the match having provided a good workout for the team if not the goals they would have hoped for. High points were Glen Johnson’s impressive debut, full of powerful running and creativity whilst being solid at the back, and some professional, though not exhilarating, performances from many of the younger members of the squad. Liverpool fans will be hoping for their side to keep the ball a lot better as pre-season progresses, with the next outing coming in Austria against Rapid Vienna on Sunday at 6.15 p.m.

Match time and date: KO 19:00 (UK). 15 July 2009

ST GALLEN: Bolli, de Souza, Schenkel, Nushi, Vitor, Caceres, Frei, Zellweger, Koubsky, Costanzo, Merenda.

(second half): Bolli, Oehri, Lang, Jagne, Frick, Graf, Ciccone, Hammerli, Abegglen, Martic, Frrokaj.

LIVERPOOL: Cavalieri, Degen, Carragher, San Jose, Insua, El Zhar, Spearing, Gerrard, Babel, Voronin, Nemeth.

(second half): Martin (Gulacsi, 80), Darby, Skrtel, Kelly (Ayala, 80), Johnson, Kuyt, Plessis, Lucas, Benayoun, Pacheco, Ngog.

REFEREE: Cyril Zimmermann.

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