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Malaysia XI 1, Liverpool 1: Reds Struggle in the Heat

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Liverpool didn't play especially well, ending their pre-season tour on a down note. The sweltering conditions, though, should help for fitness with the new season only two weeks away.

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Malaysia XI 1 Wleh 13’
Liverpool 1 Ibe 27’

For the final match of the pre-season tour, Brendan Rodgers sent out a strong starting eleven to face what should have been an overmatched opponent. Firm underdogs at the best of times, the Malaysian XI—a side regularly brought together to provide opposition for European powers on tour—facing the Reds was missing a number of regulars who were held back by their club teams in protest.

Liverpool, meanwhile, sent out a side that mostly wouldn’t look out of place kicking off on August 9th against Stoke City. Outside, at least, of two question marks: Danny Ings, who has looked Liverpool’s best striker so far in pre-season, started on the bench while Divock Origi got the nod; and Mamadou Sakho was again left out to give Dejan Lovren yet another chance to impress alongside Martin Skrtel.

It didn’t go well for Lovren, just as it has tended to not go well for Lovren every chance he’s been given since signing with Liverpool last summer. After a somnambulant start to the match seemed to lull Liverpool to sleep, Patrick Wleh—who likes to call himself Ronaldinho—took the ball in stride and blew past a flat-footed Lovren before lifting the ball past Adam Bogdan with the outside of his boot.

It was a quality finish and powerful run, but it only happened because Lovren shut off while facing Wleh one-on-one. The defender, who recently complained he was made scapegoat last year by fans, will again find himself in the crosshairs, and it’s increasingly difficult to comprehend the manner in which he is given chance after chance after chance despite an inability to show any meaningful signs of improvement.

Fifteen minutes later, Liverpool were saved a wholly embarrassing night by Jordon Ibe, who cut in onto his left and hammered a screamer into the near top corner. It was a stunning strike, particularly coming as it did in the midst of a half marked by apathetic play and defensive folly, and for Liverpool fans it was probably the one moment in the first 45 minutes that really stood out in a positive light.

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The second half started much as the first ended, with the sides exchanging possession and not doing an awful lot when they had the ball. James Milner almost created an opening for Origi with a moment of individual skill early, and then Lovren got caught ball watching and played Wleh onside but managed to recover with a successful last-ditch tackle. Outside of that, though, it was a quiet start.

As legs on both sides began to tire in the heat of Kuala Lumpur, things started to open up. Ibe exploited space on the right, looking fresher than anyone else on the pitch, while a narrow Adam Lallana linked up and interchanged with Alberto Moreno on the left. Origi ran past the Malaysia defence but then failed to avoid the charging keeper. For Malaysia, Wleh went clear but was felled by cramp.

Late on, Rodgers gave a run out to a number of youngsters, with Jordan Rossiter, Shey Ojo, Joe Maguire, Daniel Cleary, and Pedro Chirivella all seeing a few minutes. It didn’t make any difference to the match in the end, but with many of the first team players who didn't start given time on Thursday in an impromptu 60-minute match against a local club side, it was nice to see a few of the kids given time.

In what was a generally poor end to Liverpool’s pre-season tour, the main positive takeaway will have to be the fitness gained in sweltering conditions. On the other side of the ledger, it seems increasingly clear that despite his promise, Divock Origi needs time to develop—time he may struggle to get at Liverpool behind Ings and Benteke. If Daniel Sturridge can get fit, he could end up sent out on loan in January.

Meanwhile, there’s the question of Lovren. The defender turned in another performance to forget, one that argues he shouldn’t be anywhere near the starting eleven against Stoke. Yet the fact he’s been partnered consistently with Martin Skrtel during pre-season has fans fearing Brendan Rodgers continues to see him as first choice ahead of Mamadou Sakho. Only two weeks to go now to find out for certain.