Liverpool produce one of their finest displays of the past year in sweeping aside Gomel at Anfield, building off of the return of Luis Suarez in a 3-0 win. It was encouraging and hope-instilling regardless of the quality of the opposition, and the type of performance off of which Liverpool will need to build as they try to move forward under Brendan Rodgers.
Liverpool : Borini 21', Gerrard 41', Johnson 71'
Liverpool were absolutely flying for the opening twenty, buoyed by the selection of Luis Suarez in their strongest possible eleven, pouring forward in numbers and dominating possession. As discouraging as last week's first half was, this was almost the exact opposite. Yes, it's Gomel, so let's just get that out of the way. But the style and force with which Liverpool played were immeasurably better than anything we saw last week or in the preseason, and no surprise that it came with the personnel that were involved.
The fitness of Luis Suarez was evident from the get-go--as was the lapse in positional sense that lead to about six offside calls early--with the Uruguayan proving an absolute menace against the Gomel defense, and showing every bit of the presence that's made him Liverpool's most influential attacking player. He nearly capped Liverpool's best team move of the half with a bolt from range, after some quick passing out of the back and a Steven Gerrard cutback left him with space at the edge of the area.
Not surprising, then, that a fantastic Suarez move led to the opener, as he left a defender for dead and attempted a cross near the goalmouth. The deflection fell about ten yards out to an unmarked Fabio Borini, who made no mistake and opened his Liverpool account with a well-taken volley that crashed in past Vladimir Bushma low at the near post.
From there Liverpool continued their dominance, with only a few spare Gomel ventures forward gleaning any significant payoff--Pepe Reina was forced into an easy save, Martin Skrtel with a borderline clearance that could have been called for a high boot, and Igor Voronkov hit an effort from distance that Pepe Reina bobbled, leading to a Gomel corner.
But even that couldn't last, as Luis Suarez once again created chaos in the Gomel defense, leaving Steven Gerrard with an empty net from close range to tap in for Liverpool's second. The half couldn't come soon enough for the visitors, but for the hosts--and supporters who'd been salivating for much of the opening 45 minutes--it could have gone on forever.
It would have been hard for Liverpool to duplicate their first half effort, so it was little surprise that Gomel had the better of the opening minutes. But like their first half chances, the promise was only momentary, as Liverpool reasserted themselves in possession and worked their way forward methodically. Chances followed in quick succession for Gerrard--who hit the woodwork, obviously--and Suarez--who shimmied around a couple defenders, obviously--and narrowly missed after a good save by Bushma.
Liverpool got their third on a fine bit of individual skill from Glen Johnson just inside of seventy minutes--he controlled a rebound with his chest, let the ball fall, and slashed a swerving half-volley in with his left foot to kill the match off. Fitting way to round off a terrific attacking performance from the right-back, who, along with Jose Enrique, gave Liverpool exactly what they were looking for from the fullback spots.
Changes finally came for Liverpool with less than fifteen minutes to play, after Gomel had been knocked back enough that there was no way back. It was low impact stuff for Jamie Carragher and Charlie Adam, who replaced Martin Skrtel and Jonjo Shelvey respectively as Liverpool saw out the win with ease.
It's hard to strike a balance between being too optimistic about the meaning of the result, and being so cautious that it comes across as pessimistic. On the one hand it's Gomel, and the standard of the Belarusian Premier League doesn't compare very favorably to the type of competition that Liverpool will face on a weekly basis. They might be in the middle of their season, but in terms of quality there's really not anything they could offer that should pose a serious threat to Liverpool.
But on the other hand Liverpool were absolutely magnificent for much of the match, producing fluid, attacking football that the opposition just simply couldn't handle. Luis Suarez was at the heart of much of it with his usual menacing, jinking runs and quick distribution, giving plenty of evidence of why it was so important for the club to lock him down for the long term. His understanding with Steven Gerrard and Fabio Borini was frightening at times, and both of the aforementioned names proved equal to the task. The young Italian took his goal well and again showed the smart, incisive movement that went largely unrewarded, and the captain--freed by the stabilizing, scarily competent play of Lucas deeper in midfield--once again excelled further up the pitch.
They pressed maniacally at times and hurried Gomel whenever they managed a spell of possession, an effort led by Lucas but replicated from front to back. Each of the back four were as solid as you could hope, with Johnson leading the way forward and Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger both on form. Jose Enrique seemed much better with the ball at his feet, which is either a product of increased training with the football, the opposition, or some combination of both.
We'll always preach caution on both ends of the spectrum, but displays like today's provide a test for such caution. Liverpool were effective and cohesive, and they gave us a viewing experience that was actually fun. There's no promise that'll always be the case--it almost certainly won't be--but if that's an indication of where they're headed against any type of opposition, it's hard not to be optimistic.
Hope you were all able to enjoy the match as well, and unlike last week, there's probably plenty more to discuss over the next few days.