Liverpool 4: Coutinho (pen.) 13', Ibe 36', Sterling 63', Aspas 75'
Football's back, and the early returns are encouraging. Liverpool were in complete control at Deepdale, winning the Shankly Shield comfortably and showing off their new toys--and improved versions of some old ones--along the way. Preseason is preseason is preseason, but letting yourself get swept away in a bit of optimism can't do any harm with another month before it matters for real. No sense in drawing out a narrative from this, so let's run down the 4-0 victory with the main talking points in the order they happened until I start to forget that I was doing that and just start to type what's in my over-caffeinated and hungover head, like right now.
Only caveat being that, again, this is the preseason. Everyone knows that. No need to revisit it again and again. Appropriate restraint applies everywhere.
- Jon Flanagan was awesome, which is a weird way to start the bullets for a match that had Philippe Coutinho on full-tilt, Raheem Sterling unplayable, and a return for Martin Kelly 2.4. But I was really, really impressed with Flanagan, who faded from the senior squad picture last season after ascending so rapidly under Dalglish. Needs a loan still, but he was fun to watch.
- Kolo Toure and Daniel Agger may very well start the season as the first-choice pairing, and while I'm hopeful that's not the case beyond the first week or two of the new campaign, I'm not going to pitch a fit. Toure looked comfortable as Agger did most of the gliding forward, and both dealt with the few Preston attacks comfortably.
- Love you, Jay Spearing. You're being sold soon, but you're all industry and red cheeks. Good luck little buddy.
- The Jordan Henderson-Joe Allen pairing was Oldham-PTSD on first sight, but as you'd expect against a side who provided little pressure, they were class. I can see this working against certain sides, but not without proper support from the front four. Nice to see a confident Allen again, and nice to see Jordan Henderson doing anything always.
- So, the front four with Coutinho and Ibe, then. Coutinho was magic, as per usual, and Ibe is going to tear through the preseason and get us all hot and bothered anytime he's on the ball. Oussama Assaidi was serviceable but looked every bit a player who's headed out, and Fabio Borini struggled with the final touch while doing his typical make smart runs and work himself into the ground thing. Not going to start, though, and needs to find his finishing boots if he's going to be the type of impact player he so clearly wants to become.
- Seriously, Coutinho and Ibe. Woof.
- Wholesale changes as expected, though Simon Mignolet stayed on with even less to do than he did in the first half. Hard to shake the feeling that he's the man come August 17th. We'll see when Pepe Reina joins up. Also, Danny Ward coming on was a nice moment, as by all accounts he's one for the future.
- Of the new toys, Iago Aspas was by far the most fun. Casual, confident, good vision, smart running, solid hit (but terrible goalkeeping) for his goal. He was matched by the return of Raheem Sterling, who was almost as much fun as Coutinho down the left and through the middle. This was the Sterling we praised relentlessly last fall before he got burned out, and if Rodgers and company can manage him more appropriately this season, he's going to have his own Atlantic R&B Box Set.
- Glen Johnson can glide. Was awful during the spring, but when he's on form and in possession, it's a smooth sight. The rest of the back line was again untested, though interesting to see Andre Wisdom partner Martin Skrtel on the left side of central defense.
- Dani Pacheco is every preseason's Andriy Voronin, in that he dominates everything comprehensively and then disappears when it counts. Not that it's all of his doing, of course, but he's always damned good during the preseason and nowhere to be seen in the first-team setup once the season starts. This season looks to be the same as it ever was. We'll always have Preston, Dani.
- Bit of a strange role for Luis Alberto, who looked caught in between and wasn't sure what to do. He was deeper than YouTube promised, often closer to Lucas than the front four, and never really looked settled. Lucas was great at sniffing out attacks, though, and they did well enough as a quasi-pairing.
- Stewart Downing is either leaving or going to be classed out as Rodgers' squad gets up to full fitness and additions are made. Out of place more often than not, which isn't an unfamiliar sight.
- More. Please. Preseason is designed to be fun, and this one was. All the above conclusions probably don't mean anything, but as we talked about yesterday, it's something real to talk about, and with five more friendlies between now and Stoke's visit to Anfield, we'll hopefully have more of the same to enjoy.
Aspas' goal below, with proper videos to come later tonight:
Video by MostarLFC