Bordeaux 1 Jussiê 81'
Liverpool 1 Lallana 65'
There was a mixture of raised eyebrows, sighs and shrugs as the traveling squad for tonight's Europa League opener was announced yesterday, with Brendan Rodgers leaving six league starters out of the trip altogether and bringing along seven would-be European debutants for the ride. On the bright side, we got to see Mamadou Sakho back in the side, and the French international captained the team as they took to the field at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux.
Liverpool came out in the 3-4-3 that served them so well during the unbeaten stretch last season, with Sakho, Kolo Toure and Joe Gomez at the back, Jordon Ibe and Alberto Moreno at the wingbacks, and Jordan Rossiter, Emre Can, Philipe Coutinho and Adam Lallana forming the midfield 'box' behind Divock Origi. The Belgian striker showed glimpses of his dual threat ability after four minutes, as he met the ball, played a one-two with Ibe, poked a pass to Coutinho, and made a run drawing defenders away, providing the Brazilian with space to shoot. Unfortunately, the left-footed effort was hooked wide.
Minutes later, inexperience showed, as a crossfield ball found Roland streaking into the box. With neither Gomez or Rossiter alert to the danger, Mignolet did well to come off his line and force the Uruguayan striker to loft his chip over the bar.
Kolo Toure was booked for a sloppy foul and on the subsequent free kick was clattered into by his own goalkeeper, forcing him to leave the field for treatment.
It would be another fifteen minutes before Liverpool threatened again, in a game that was marked by few chances and sloppy passing from both sides. This time, a Moreno through ball found Origi making a diagonal run, but his finish snuck a foot or so outside the post. The linesman's flag made sure it wouldn't have counter anyway.
Toure's injured leg could no longer carry him, and he was substituted for Pedro Chirivella, the Spanish youngster taking the central midfield's average age down to 18, and the average age of Liverpool's outfield players to a cherubic 21,2. This youthfulness and inexperience, along with the structural weakness of the formation -- the space between the CMs and CBs -- allowed Bordeaux to get into some dangerous positions, and both Roland and the Tunisian playmaker Khazri had shots go over the bar.
Coutinho ended the half with an exclamation point, as his rasping drive from 25 yards smacked back off the near post.
The second half started even slower than the first, and it took ten minutes before Adam Lallana's nifty Cruyff turn and shot served up a warning of what was to come. Bordeaux wasted a glorious opportunity on the hour, as Can and Gomez went into the same duel, leaving Roland unmarked at the far post to receive the poor headed clearance. Mignolet was again quick off his line, and deflected the shot into Crivelli and across the touchline.
Lallana scored the first goal of the game minutes later, as he lazily nutmegged the centre-back Pablo, and equally lazily rolled the ball around Pallois and into the far corner. It was the kind of elegant, sleek play Lallana has shown to be capable of and which Liverpool fans will hope to see more of in the near future.
Substitutions made the game choppy from here, with a flawless first-touch chip over the defender from substitute Danny Ings the only remaining moment of inspiration from the visitors. Carrasso was wise to the Englishman's finish though, and pushed it around the post.
The home side weren't mounting much pressure and it seemed as though Liverpool would take all three points, but inexperience again reared its head, as Can and Gomez conspired to let Crivelli play keepy-uppy inside the box, before the German's weak challenge allowed the ball to fall to Jussiê, who slotted the ball home past Mignolet, leaving both teams with a point each.
An uneven performance with some bright spots: a point away from home, a dominant performance from Captain Sakho reminding us why we all want him to start, and some overall promising play from the youths, Rossiter displaying energy and Origi showing the difference a pacy striker can make. Moreno illustrated what a left-footed fullback brings to the left fullback position, and Lallana got a goal in an otherwise typical performance from him -- moments of graceful brilliance bookended by moments of overplaying.
On the other hand, Liverpool still struggled to create big chances, Ibe continued to look unfocused and out of sync with his teammates, and the inexperience of the central line led to some sloppy chances and an easy goal for Bordeaux. The insistence on playing the 'box' version of the 3-4-3, with the massive space between midfield and defence is also worrying, particularly if the formation is to be used again this season.
All in all, a point away from home in Europe is a good thing, and might just take a tiny bit of pressure off a team and manager who have seemed to be spiralling down for a few weeks now.