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Liverpool 1, Roma 2: Jet-Lagged Reds Waste First Half Chances

Liverpool face-off against Francisco Totti's Roma and lose to the Italians in a third consecutive preseason match.

What one would have given to see these two line-up alongside one another...
What one would have given to see these two line-up alongside one another...
Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Liverpool 1 Ojo, 45+1'
Roma 2 Džeko 30', Salah 63'

Predictably, given the game against AC Milan only two days ago, Jürgen Klopp trotted out a new line-up with Alberto Moreno relegated to the bench in favor of James Milner; Nathaniel Clyne on the right, Emre Can and Georgini Wijnaldum in the double pivot, and Sheyi Ojo getting a surprising start on the left partnering Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino in the front three behind Daniel Sturridge. For their part Roma had a strong line-up as well, with El Shaarawy, Džeko, Salah, Paredes, Nainggolan, and Strootman all starting. Among other thoughts: let us make it clear now, football should not be played on baseball fields.

Both teams started slowly, with sloppy play on the deck and each midfield attempting to wrest control from the other characterizing the game's start. Manninger made a smart save at four minutes from El Sharaawy, and Salah, Džeko, and Nainggolan interchanged well with some slick one touch passing not a few minutes later. Sturridge was consistently dropping deep, which usually reduces Liverpool's joy, and Milner was looking to get down the left flank early and often. Emre got into it with Strootman, which the referee handled well, and then Liverpool started turning the screws.

For a relatively sustained period Liverpool looked likely to score but - tell me if you've heard this before - the final touch let them down. First, Sturridge was played through by Mane on a lovely little pass only to attempt a chip that elicited a brilliant save from Alisson Becker. Thereafter, Wijnaldum played a delightful ball to Sturridge from deep right midfield while Sturridge ran the left channel; Studge brought it down and played Milner into touch with an inch-perfect flick then circled to the far side of the six to receive Milner's cross; yet the deadly striker could make only weak contact with Milner's return ball, heading it directly at the keeper.

Emre showed passing range, pinging balls to switch the field from the left-side double pivot slot. WIjnaldum clearly received similar orders, playing one such beautiful ball to spring a left-sided attack but still searching for his range more often than not. Mane continued to look Liverpool's best non-Suarez signing in recent years, creating an absolutely glorious chance in the twenty-third minute after a receiving the ball inside the midfield circle, holding off a defender, powering forward with three touches, popping a quick ball to the ever-ready Milner on the left, receiving it back with a delicate touch to buy himself a yard of space just inside the eighteen, and then playing a cruyff-style back-heel flick through to Firmino who was ruled a shade offside but would've been in on goal.

All in all, the Reds were looking very, very good despite having played not two days prior. Then, disaster: Salah picked up the ball ten yards behind midfield a few yards in from the right sideline and in his own half, took a touch inside with his back turned to Milner (a point in favor of Milner's defensive efforts should one seek to blame him for this move) before playing it into Paredes at the top of the midfield circle in Liverpool's half. Paredes took a touch and had a look around; a vertical ball later it was on Džeko's chest about 22 yards out and directly behind the spot, though Lovren remained in front of the Bosnian. Rather than throw himself on the ground, a la John Terry, or otherwise make a valiant effort to block the shot or close the man, Lovren stood off, giving the Bosnian international space to do what he does best: slot the ball into the lower 90 regardless of the run-of-play.

Liverpool proceeded to do that thing they do where we look kind of dangerous but can't quite find a final ball or test the opposition keeper. Emre continued to show some spray-ability, whetting this author's whistle for the leap and the possibility this year of two deep-lying playmakers (expect to see some beautiful balls over the top from the double pivot this year).

Roma did little else of note the rest of the first half, and Liverpool drove for an equalizer. Milner looked bright on the left, playing a direct style, interchanging well in close-quarters, and defending competently (he may yet grab the starting LB spot). Finally, on the stroke of halftime, Ojo nodded in a Lovren header at the near post off a Milner corner.

Lovren, lurking at the back post near the corner of the six, put it back across goal for the youngster to place his header just inside the near post, and just like that, Liverpool were level and managed to score off a set piece. It must be noted that Klavan did nothing but his job the first half, and he did it well. Also, El Shaarawy's hair continued to be awesome, and Firmino continued (one imagines) to drive a few supporters crazy with wasteful touches gifting possession far too frequently, despite contributing a fair bit.

The second half brought wholesale changes from Klopp - ten in all: Stewart and Wisdom at CB; Mignolet for Manninger; Moreno and Trent Alexander-Arnold at LB and RB, respectively; Henderson and Wijnaldum in the double pivot; Coutinho, Lallana, and Markovic supporting Danny Ings.

The game then petered out. Moreno looked lost as a general matter: profligate in possession and showing little initiative to drive at defenders. Henderson was not as impressive as against Milan, slightly off with his passing range. The Reds displayed what so many mocked under Brendan Rodgers: sterile possession. While busy doing nothing with the ball looked to be an easy defensive strategy from Liverpool, Roma had other designs.

Despite sitting back a fair amount, Roma did at least look dangerous going forward on occasion, and Liverpool were made to pay sixty-four minutes in: Paredes played a pinpoint switch to a marauding Florenzi who cut inside Coutinho (Moreno was five yards inside the box with his hands behind is back marking no one because of course he was) and played a luscious ball onto the six; Džeko, ghosting in-between Kevin Stewart and Andre Wisdom, unleashed a thunderous header right at Mignolet who somehow palmed it in front of him; and Wisdom decided to box-out Džeko rather than attack the ball, letting it fall to Salah for a tap in. Wisdom then chose to bollock Mignolet for the center back's own mistake.

Wijnaldum came off late in favor of Cameron Brannagan, and the rest of the match consisted of neither team doing much and the announcers discussing: (a) Liverpool's expected finish in the EPL; (b) Totti's new contract, which provides he will become technical director of Roma after retiring [?!?!?]; (c) the fact Christian Benteke is the only player on tour yet to see the pitch; and (d) a certain previous match between these two clubs that one should watch for smooth dance moves.

During the end stages Mignolet made one great snap save, and Ings had a decent chance but couldn't quite connect. Aside from that the Reds looked as one might expect: a little tired after Saturday, three-a-days, and a few plane flights. A successful tour completed and memories made (please, do share!), Klopp & Co. fly home soon to face Barcelona and the prodigal son this coming Saturday, August 6th.

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