Prior to the final stage of Liverpool’s pre-season tour, Liverpool Echo reporter James Pearce tweeted his prediction that Liverpool would beat the Malaysia XI 8-0. Pearce is an excellent journalist and the most reliable source of information on the inside happenings of the club, but this prediction proved to be some way off target as the game ended in a rather drab 1-1 draw- a definite step down in quality and intensity from the 2 previous fixtures in Australia.
As it was the 4th game of pre-season, things are starting to get serious as the team prepares for the opening game of the season at Stoke and Rodgers selected arguably the strongest side he had available, except for Adam Bogdan getting an opportunity in place of Simon Mignolet in goal. The game took a while to spring into life, with the usual pattern of Liverpool dominating possession in the early stages. Out of nowhere, however, a long punt upfield by Malaysia XI somehow caused havoc for the defence. Skrtel was nowhere to be see, way out of position, whilst Lovren, who desperately needs to prove himself, was caught ball watching as the appropriately named Ronaldinho took full advantage by finding the top corner with a superb outside-of-the-boot finish to give Malaysia XI a surprise lead early on. The big Croatian certainly didn’t enhance his already damaged reputation on this showing, even against relatively low standard of opposition. Lovren was also guilty of spurning multiple opportunities in front of goal himself, wasting several free headers by missing the target completely. Divock Origi was also a culprit of erratic finishing- the early impression from the young Belgian forward is that he’s a player with plenty of raw talent, but his end product is very much lacking at this stage.
For now, he looks likely to be an impact player off the bench. It took a moment of brilliance from Jordon Ibe to level the scoring, as he received the ball on the right wing, before effortlessly beating his man, cutting inside and lashing a powerful strike into the top corner for the equaliser. A terrific finish from the 19 year old, especially on his weaker left foot. Ibe has certainly made a case to start against Stoke with a string of highly impressive performances in pre-season, offering a burst of pace which could add that extra dimension to the intricate technical players at Rodgers’ disposal in Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho.
The second half proved to be a continuation of the same pattern. Origi was through on goal a couple of times but was unable to convert. Lovren then shinned a volley horribly over the bar from Skrtel’s knock down, whilst Lallana was unlucky to see a long range effort deflected on to the cross bar. There was one moment of near-disaster as Skrtel lost his footing, allowing Ronaldinho to race through on goal, but this time Lovren was able to track back just in time to clear the danger to his credit. It was a nervous display from both centre backs, and the absence of Mamadou Sakho from the backline proved the Frenchman’s necessity for the side more than ever. With the tempo gradually dropping as the game drew to a close, Rodgers introduced the youngsters for the final few minutes, giving a short run out to Clearly, Maguire, Rossiter, Chirivella and Ojo. There was one late chance for Malaysia XI but Bogdan did well to save. It could easily have been 6 or 7 goals for Liverpool had the finishing been more ruthless, but the squad will return home having gained valuable match fitness and without any injuries.
On the whole, it’s been a successful tour with the new signings settling in well. James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne in particular have made strong starts to their Liverpool careers, whilst 18 year old Joe Gomez has perhaps been the surprise standout player, forcing his way into Rodgers’ thinking with some excellent displays at left back. Elsewhere, Jordon Ibe has been a constant threat down the right wing and looks set to have a key role in the season ahead, whilst Lallana has also shown promising form with a couple of well taken goals- another player with an incentive to prove his doubters wrong. After a bright start to the tour in Thailand it was disappointing not to see more of Lazar Markovic and Joao Teixeira, such is the fierce competition for places in the attacking midfield positions.
Whilst there have been flashes of what Ings and Origi can offer as backup striker options this season, the shaky performance of Lovren will not fill Rodgers with confidence and is only likely to play into the hands of Sakho as first choice to partner Skrtel, which most fans (myself included) will be glad to see. Now we can look forward to welcoming back Emre Can and Phil Coutinho along with new boys Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke who are likely to make their debuts on 1st August vs HJK Helsinki, before one final warm up game vs Swindon the following day.
Rodgers now has a plethora of exciting and talented attacking options ahead of the new season, although I can’t help but feel one or two matches against a higher standard of opposition would have been useful preparation for the Stoke game as these opponents have not provided a thorough test to highlight the areas in need of improvement. Even against Malaysia XI the defence still looked uncertain at times and that’s certainly an area to pay close attention to before the season begins. On the flip side, these games have allowed the squad to gel together without too much pressure and get some wins under their belts to build up confidence which is much needed following the last visit to Stoke City (I needn’t mention the score). Has it been adequate preparation for the new Premier League campaign? Who knows. Bring on the 9th of August.