Assessing Liverpool’s Pre-season So Far

Liverpool’s North American tour is more than just meaningless friendlies. Not only does it take place very close to the start of Liverpool’s competitive season, with the Europa League starting for the Merseyside club shortly after, but it was the first time fans got to see how Brendan Rodgers shaped his side. So far Liverpool has played three games against MLS and European opposition and Rodgers has basically stuck with his 4-3-3 system throughout. Not all the first team players have been available for selection of course, so not a lot can be read into the standard of play, especially in hot conditions. However something can be discerned from the way Liverpool has been playing, Rodgers has been trying to stamp his style on the club and these are the first impressions:

High Line: Liverpool has been playing with a variety of back lines during the tour but every defender has had license to be high up the pitch. The fullbacks have also been pushed high up the park with one midfielder (normally Jay Spearing or Lucas) sitting slightly deeper than the rest to ensure balance.

Pressing: Something else associated with Rodgers’ style of play, Liverpool has focused on pressing from the front throughout preseason. They haven’t always done it as well as could be expected, which could be contributed to the temperatures, and some lineups have been better at it than others. Still, it seems that they are working on it as a key part of their game.

Building from the back: Again, something that should be done a lot better, and will probably improve when Liverpool play with Pepe Reina as more of a sweeper keeper. However, it’s good to see the club making a concerted effort to avoid aimless balls upfield unless as a last resort.

Some players not looking like a good fit for the system: Most Liverpool fans were concerned that some of the less mobile squad members would be a liability in this new pass and move system, and the fear has been confirmed. While Jamie Carragher seems to be trying to keep the ball on the floor, even achieving a 100% pass completion against Toronto FC, Charlie Adam and Joe Cole constantly hold the ball for too long and attempt too many low-percentage passes. They are trying to adapt to a new system, and both have been putting in obvious effort, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they are square pegs in a round hole.

Liverpool lack depth:  It was a worry when Liverpool let Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez go while only adding Fabio Borini. Anyone hoping that Liverpool’s much touted youth team would step up would have been disappointed on current evidence. Nathan Ecclestone and Adam Morgan do not look ready to make the jump yet, and neither does Raheem Sterling or Suso. With Luis Suarez playing nonstop football for the past two/three years and Andy Carrol’s future uncertain Liverpool’s reserves look dangerously thin. It’s not just the forwards and attacking midfielders either, if Lucas gets injured again and Liverpool need to rely on Jay Spearing week in week out their season will go the same way as 2011-12. Reinforcements are needed.

The offense looks toothless: This may be a direct result of the previous point, with players that had built up an understanding with the squad now departed, and the rest of the side still learning how to play under a new manager. Yet in three preseason games Liverpool only scored two goals, despite monopolizing possession. For a side that didn’t score enough last season this is especially worrying. Too often the possession has been sterile and unimaginative, with the only source of aggression a diagonal ball to Raheem Sterling. A good offense has many routes of attack and if Liverpool shows the same narrow mindedness during their league campaign then they will find it hard to break into the top four.

Sameer Chopra

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