Liverpool 2 - 2 Sporting
Liverpool Origi, Wijnaldum
Sportin Fernandes, Wendel
We are still in the tired-legs phase of pre-season so there’s been no reason to worry over Liverpool’s last couple of results. Jürgen Klopp has been integrating young players into his group and training and planning tactics without several key figures in his team. The message is still about fitness and understanding at this point. The air is hot and gross up and down the east coast of the U.S., more suited for making people miserable than for playing football. Still, a fun match in New York that ends in a Liverpool win sounds nice.
Klopp’s starting XI was exciting to see. The defense that won the Champions League plus Simon Mignolet. Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, oh my.
Nothing was happening. Nothing much was happening at all. I was still adjusting to the match being played on a baseball field and viewed from an aggressively low angle on a pitch just wider than legally required. That’s when the ball came in from outside the box. Mignolet got himself down to collect it but spilled the ball instead.
Goal - Sporting. 1-0. The shooter? None other than Bruno Fernandes.
Afterwards, Liverpool started happening a little more and more. Andy Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, they were driving the team forward. Ox so cleanly beating his mark is like a new signing. Liverpool were heavily active on the right and making waves in the Sporting defense.
Van Dijk got a chance 18 minutes in from a corner. Sporting’s keeper saved.
More sharp movement up the right led to a great ball in from Trent. The ball went over the defense to Wijndaum who managed to control it with his head. He waited for Robertson to get up the pitch. Oh, how Gini waited. Then he faked inside and kicked it on towards the touchline to Robertson. In it goes, another great ball. Henderson launches himself towards it, striking it towards goal. Another save but the man himself Divock Origi is on site to tap in the rebound.
GOAL - Liverpool! Divock Origi.
Sporting continued to try and pass their way into Liverpool’s half but their success was limited. 25 minutes in and the Reds weren’t perfect but they had reached composure mode. Sloppy play showed in patches but wasn’t a real problem aside from gifting the opposition a few counter attacks.
Sporting were getting frustrated, presumably from a lack of progress. And then there it was, another match, another rash tackle. A borderline red card challenge from Sporting’s Neto on Wijnaldum. Two-footed, from behind. Ref showed the yellow card. A little pre-season joke, maybe.
Bruno Fernandes found some joy driving through the middle for a spell, giving Fabinho a headache, and with the half winding down, Sporting looked to assert themselves and go into the dressing room with an advantage. That’s when Joël Matip went ahead and sprung into action. I don’t know how he did it but Matip single-handedly turned the tide of the half. Prove he didn’t.
The Matip energy swirled through the team. Wijnaldum got himself on the end of a curling, side-footed cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain that completely eluded Sporting’s defenders. Gini’s shot was deflected but hit the back of the net all the same.
GOAL - Liverpool. Wijnaldum.
More Liverpool activity ensued and there was nearly another goalscoring moment for Wijnaldum a minute later. The half ended with two point-blank saves from Mignolet after a corner kick into the box. Origi cleared for good and the whistle blew.
Liverpool were under pressure again after the restart. Sporting were looking to level early and got their wish.
Alexander-Arnold got beat by a terrific breaking run from Fernandes on the right. Fernandes turned his ball in for the Brazilian Wendel who popped it pass Mignolet.
Goal - Sporting.
But Liverpool again responded to adversity with positivity. The attacking composure began to show signs of returning. Van Dijk had another chance off of corner but hit the post. At 2-2, and with both side full of impetus, it was a proper football match. And then the substations began.
The one and only Sebastian Coates came on for Sporting. If you don’t remember Seba, you’re missing out on a fun tidbit. Yes, I know Tiago Ilori was playing for Sporting, too. But you know that that is nowhere near as fun a tidbit. Not even close. Joe Gomez, Ryan Kent, and Harry Wilson subbed on for Liverpool.
A rocky patch followed. Klopp’s team struggled to produce anything and gave too much away to Sporting but then more substitutes entered the game, making matter worse. Curtis Jones, Adam Lallana, and Rhian Brewster for Liverpool. It was an altogether different team to the one that began the first half.
But Sporting had made their own changes along the way. Theirs was an altogether different team, too. And just like that the veil of entertainment draped over the first half was lifted. The pre-season-ness of it all was laid bare. But then Sepp van den Berg stood up. He was coming on.
Was I privately rooting for a Sporting counter attack to see Sepp in action? Yes. It didn’t happen. But when the 17-year-old did finally get a touch of ball the crowd cheered. They cheered every touch. He is so far from home and getting welcomed to the club.
The match fizzled out and the 2-2 trophy-rich draw was over.
Gini was effective at playing as Sadio Mané. Oxlade-Chamberlain was explosive on the right. The boys were starting to look like a very good team again, just without the consistency. But, pre-season. The grass was bad. The pitch was weird. The air was greasy thick.
Given that the team is still incomplete, I’m considering that match progress. The result is irrelevant and Klopp will not give it a second thought. He’ll see the positives from the first half and assess the improvements of the young and returning players from the second. And then Kornmayer will still make them all run tomorrow anyway.
With that the U.S. tour comes to a close and Liverpool will return home to prepare for the remainder of their pre-season fixtures.