Swindon Town 1 Obika 63'
Liverpool 2 Benteke 52', Ojo 86'
Over 27,000 miles logged in Liverpool's preseason this year, and the sun shone brightly for the Reds' second game in as many days. This would serve as the final tune up before marching on Mordor for the regular season opener next week.
The all black away kits looked sharp on debutantes Christian Benteke and Roberto Firmino. Both appeared comfortable slotting in as key components of Liverpool's attack. Benteke spearheaded the christmas tree with Firmino and Lazar Markovic supporting and flanking him in attack.
The first couple minutes saw Firmino sprint onto a 50/50 against Liverpool loanee Lawrence Vigouroux, touch the ball beyond the gloves, and get clipped into a full blooded front flip that must have had Brendan Rodgers' heart in his throat. The play would prove indicative of what Firmino brought throughout - incessant incisiveness and pressing across the attacking band behind the striker.
As a whole, Liverpool kept it wide, pressed, shot tamely, and notched an injury in the first half. Joe Allen pulled up lame minutes after failing to finish an Alberto Moreno pull back with an attempted far post curler. Terrible luck to start the season for the injury-prone Welshman, with Joao Carlos Teixeira replacing him in a move that perhaps foreshadows things to come for Liverpool's midfield. The move also shifted the formation a bit closer to a 4-2-3-1 for the rest of the half, with Tex going narrow left, Lazar going wider right, and Firmino going wherever he pleased.
Lucas would flash a movement that appeared deliberate from Rodgers. The Brazilian would come up from his screening midfield perch to press the opposition high and central. On 15' he forced a turnover at the top of the box, and demonstrated why Gremio played him at attacking midfield by eschewing both Firmino and Benteke in favor of a tame shot straight at Vigouroux. Considering Liverpool's midfield options, the movement could be indicative of things to come this year.
Firmino's press on the right two minutes later would lead to him squaring for Benteke, who would registered his first bad shot of the day straight at the keeper. The press leading to chance creation was a theme in the first half, though, and if Firmino's afternoon is any indication of how BR wants to use the Brazilian, Liverpool fans' excitement for their new #11 will be plenty warranted.
The rest of the first half would include a marauding Emre Can run up the gut opening up Markovic for a horrific outside-of-the-boot attempt, a poor touch and take from Benteke in the box, a peachy curler from 20 yards that went wide left for Firmino, and a Lazar-Tex connection in the box that finished with a weak shot from the Serbian.
Some diminishing returns on the press team wide, but the only real bad news was the Allen injury.
Who doesn't like coming out flying in the second half? Firmino continued to take up positions between the CBs and FBs off the ball, Can made a point of pushing forward more, and at 48' Benteke would make his first repayment on his transfer fee.
A cross in from the right was taken by the Belgian on his chest, then swiveled into a right footed volley that directed the ball, on a rope, straight into the corner of the net. It was a goal indicative of Benteke's strengths, and if he continues to make plays like that it won't matter what else he does or does not do.
Firmino would be unfairly judged offside at 50' in another example of the buzzing nature of the guy's game, and Markovic should have done much better to find Benteke centrally after springing open wide right at 52'. Substitutions began on 58' for the Reds, with Cleary coming on for the nervy 16 year old Alexander-Arnold. Alberto Moreno looked spry (and blonde) throughout, and almost finished a lovely short range chip over Vigouroux at 63'.
*The Swindon Town goal was sumptuously taken by Johnathan Obika from a left sided cross that basically mystified Alberto Moreno. Not the greatest from the Spaniard..No more goals for Benteke, though, as he was pulled off on 67' along with Firmino and Bogdan. Youth teamers Ryan Fulton, Ryan Kent, and a short-haired Sheyi Ojo would come on for the new signings. Arrow up for both Firmino and Benteke, more of the same against Stoke, please, gents.
For those who haven't seen Ryan Kent play, his running and purpose is a joy to behold, and clearly he's got a chance to break into the first team sooner than later. Markovic played the youngster in at 69' with a wonderful through ball right in the heart of the defense, although Kent was unable to do anything with it.
Pedro Chirivella would be the last youngster to come on, replacing Emre Can and looking assured on the ball. Ojo was interestingly used on his own up top, and considering the lad's frame it was hard not to confuse him with Benteke at times.
His goal was certainly Benteke-esque. A chested control at 86' opened him up for a crack that forced itself through Vigouroux's palms and looped into the open goal behind. It was the deciding goal in the game, and proved to be the final moment of note beyond a serious looking wrist/hand injury for Chirivella.
A trot in the sun for Rodgers' men, with the real take away being Firmino's capable movement supplanting some efficiently devastating play from Christian Benteke. Regardless of the amount spent for the pair, Liverpool fans will be frothing at the mouth for them to carry this form into Stoke City next week.
(*Edited in after the fact for accuracy of a thing that actually happened.)
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