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Draw with Grasshoppers, Exit for Riera, and Europa League News

A couple pieces of news to go along with yesterday's opener...

Which turned out to be the prototypical preseason friendly in nearly every aspect.

Don't get me wrong, it was great to see the squad in action, and some of the younger squad members were plenty impressive, but you'd be hard-pressed to provide anything that really knocked you over with excitement. You don't really enter these sorts of matches expecting to get your skirt blown up, but it would have been nice to see a glimmer here or there.

I think the most notable takeaways from yesterday are the play of the young wingers, the continued emergence of Dani Ayala, and the fact that everyone came through in good health.

David Amoo and Nathan Eccleston both had pace in spades and gave the Grasshoppers' wing backs nightmares, although they were generally unable to create much in the way of chances. There's clearly plenty of development left for both, but if yesterday is any indication, the future in the wide areas at Liverpool could be bright.

We had more of a chance to see Ayala during the 2009-2010 season, and while he performed capably in those appearances, it was clear he was still a ways off. Yesterday doesn't change much given the nature of the competition, but he was far and away the man of the match for Liverpool. He broke up play nearly every time he was in the vicinity and was generally ruthless in central defense. Likely getting far ahead of myself based on a preseason friendly, but performances like that combined with the signing of Danny Wilson are mighty encouraging for the future.

Little needs to be said about the fitness of the squad---the only real scare came early in the match, with Alberto Aquilani needing brief assistance after crumbling to the turf in the 5th minute. The attention luckily proved unnecessary, as the Italian put in a decent shift after coming back on and was responsible for Liverpool's only real threatening chance of the match.

All-in-all, not the worst way to start the 2010-2011 campaign, especially in light of the fact that nearly every first-team player in the squad was absent. We got our first glimpse at Jonjo Shelvey, saw Joe Cole mingling with the locals, and even had a chance to have Setanta Sports remind us that there's so much more this season on Setanta Sports! And we get to do it all again on Saturday against Kaiserslautern in Germany.

As noted in the banner, there's a couple other bits of news that have come out in the past 24 hours. The first concerns wantaway/wantastay Albert Riera. He was initially named a starter prior to the canceled match with Al-Hilal on Saturday, but in the days since, rumors about his departure have intensified.

The official site has confirmed that an exit is imminent, with his absence from the squad yesterday attributed to ongoing talks with Olympiacos. Even if his problems in the spring were solely with Rafa Benitez, the fallout made an exit the only possible outcome. The way things unfolded was might unfortunate---he was skilled on the ball, pacey enough to beat a man on the wing, and was an important part of the success Liverpool earned in the 2008-2009 season. But like I said, he was never going to stay with the club after what happened, and his departure is best for both parties.

The other news is the confirmation of Rabotnicki as Liverpool's Europa League opponent. They drew 0-0 with FC Mika today, which, combined with Teteks' 3-1 aggregate win over Ventspils, means that Liverpool will travel to Macedonia on July 29th for the first leg. It was originally scheduled for Anfield, but the presence of two Macedonian teams in the competition was cause enough for UEFA to switch the fixtures. Liverpool will obviously enter as heavy favorites, but we know it'll come at a time when the squad is without players who participated in the World Cup and are on the tail end of traveling across the continent during preseason.

We're only a week away now from that first leg in Skopje, which means that we're really going to get a chance to see what Roy Hodgson's Liverpool will look like. Regardless of the tumult of the past few months, it's an exciting prospect.

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