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Rangers 1, Liverpool 0: Gaining Fitness and Growing Indifference

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andy carroll liverpool miserable
Rangers 1 Lee McCulloch 20'
Liverpool 0

It was a midseason friendly dropped in the middle of an important run of games in the league and League Cup for Liverpool, and for all that the clubs might boast of it being a prestigious matchup while pointing to both sides being out of Europe as a kind of justification, it never seemed a game likely to provide much thrill and spectacle. And aside from a few gruesome shots of Liverpool keeper Doni's broken or dislocated finger and the odd sight of vitriolic Rangers supporters loudly booing "You'll Never Walk Alone" during a match whose revenue will be used to stave off their club's looming bankruptcy, in the end it was exactly the sort of dull display most expected.

About the best that Liverpool will be able to take away from proceedings will be that Daniel Agger got in nearly 80 minutes of football returning from injury, and that he looked largely composed despite his recent time spent on the trainer's table. It also doesn't hurt that he didn't seem to be limping when he came off the pitch for Martin Skrtel as the match wound down. Paired with him in the middle, Sebastian Coates also put in a decent performance, largely going unnoticed—hardly a bad thing for a centre half—outside of blocking a low cross in the first that seemed certain to lead to a goal had it gone through to the waiting Rangers striker.

It was a similar story for Fabio Aurelio and Glen Johnson, as both got a chance to work on their fitness in a match of little importance. Things weren't especially positive for Danny Wilson, however, as the former Rangers defender once again showed that he isn't a left back—and why he was so easily displaced by the younger Jack Robinson towards the end of last season. In fact, watching Wilson at left back with Agger inside him became rather surreal at times in the first half, as the Danish centre back made four or five adventurous forays deep into the Rangers end while Wilson barely crossed the half way line that many times. In the lead in to the friendly, many assumed Wilson would be given time at his natural position in the middle of defence. That he wasn't, and that he continues to struggle at the only position he's been given meaningful minutes at, can only leave his future with the club in further doubt.

The way Rangers scored can't help but add to doubts, either, with the game's lone goal coming off a scrambled corner and highlighting Liverpool's continuing struggles on set plays. Coming midway through a first half that had seen Liverpool with the better possession game while the home side likely had the greater goal threat despite seeing little of the ball, it seemed to encapsulate Liverpool's issues this season: Struggling to turn possession into chances; struggling to turn what chances there are into goals; and struggling to defend from dead ball situations.

Still, while players like Maxi, Lucas, and the two centre backs all put in generally solid performances, it was hard to escape that on the whole the players seemed largely indifferent. It was a mid-season friendly, and, aside from a few scrappy moments, players on both sides seemed largely happy to just run about for a bit at half speed. All of which makes a generally underwhelming performance—both as a team and individually—mostly forgivable. Though in the case of somebody like Danny Wilson who's fighting for his future at the club—or who at least should be—it's a little harder to simply write off that apparent lack of effort.

And if Danny Wilson's unconvincing performance against opposition that wasn't especially fired up while he at least should have been is disappointing, it wasn't anywhere near as disappointing as Andy Carroll's complete lack of a pulse. It's a friendly, yes; it's meaningless, yes. But Carroll has found himself pushed to the fringes of the first team this season, and if he's to have any chance of working his way back into the starting eleven on a regular basis this was the perfect opportunity for him to show it. Rangers, for all that they're a quality side, are not up to the standard of the top Premier League clubs, and a fired up Carroll should have been capable of making a meaningful impact on the match—and by doing so, he might have even shouldered his way back into the starting eleven. Instead he appeared the least interested player on the pitch—perhaps even less interested than Fernando Torres seemed leading the line for Liverpool last season—and with the big striker logging a worryingly disinterested ninety minutes, it's easy to see him being on the bench once again come Saturday and the league match against Norwich City.

In the end, then, that it was a loss doesn't matter. That Liverpool lost their primary backup to Pepe Reina is a concern, though with Reina's solid injury record there's reason to hope that it will play no impact on Liverpool's season. On the flip side, that a number of Liverpool's players returning from injury or who have seen little action in recent weeks at least got to run around a bit is a positive, even if it will hardly seem a positive for the supporters who paid money and travelled to Glasgow to watch their club not really play. But the biggest thing that's left to be taken away from this meaningless/prestige friendly might in the end be doubts: Doubts about whether Danny Wilson has any kind of future at Liverpool, and, even more worryingly, whether Andy Carroll does.