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It's Only Pre-season, Right?

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As Liverpool's American tour ends with a galling defeat to Manchester United, Brendan Rodgers tries to focus on the positives and see the bigger picture whilst many fans' anxieties grow regarding the readiness of his evolving group.

Colly was quietly devastated. Shorts were HIS thing. And this biceps flaunting was for the birds...
Colly was quietly devastated. Shorts were HIS thing. And this biceps flaunting was for the birds...
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Some time ago, whilst ducking to avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, your scribbler had a kind of Damascene epiphany. It was a realisation that was at once shatteringly grim and wonderfully liberating. People, dear reader, will generally let you down. That apparently bleak awakening was not as odious as it seems, for the moment one has come to terms with it, there is an empowering surge of determination that emboldens the soul and empowers the self with fresh resilience and fortitude.

Such a mindset invariably leads to a kevlar-like protective skin forming around the soul and those who were wont to be emotional geysers become quietly stoical and wary. A degree of carefree spontaneity may be lost but the stinging pain of inevitable disappointment is avoided. It's a trade off, you see. I expect nothing from you and the likelihood of you delivering exactly that cannot then wound me. This joyless chariness seems logical, if more than a touch cynical, until one factors in football. At that point, the whole system collapses.

As a fan, unless one is an utter masochist, it is simply impossible to expect the worst all the time. Inherent in fandom is hope -- the inclination to dream, often utterly without justification, of glory. I was reminded, as I watched Glen Johnson fail to stop any cross ever against Manchester United in Miami last night, that my mirthless methodology is fatally flawed. Every time Liverpool begin a season, we expect, we hope and we dream. For some reason, logic dissolves into a puddle of pointless bilge at our feet and we trust that suddenly our vastly experienced number two will remember the basics of defending. Every time he does not is a fresh hell of groaning disappointment and sweary exclamation.

However, if Liverpool Football Club can still disappoint us, the fact remains that there is so much more joy than upset. Even in last night's chastening defeat to Louis Van Gaal's charges there was much to enthuse about. A half time result of 3-0 would not have flattered Liverpool as Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho tore them apart with their directness and guile. Only the presence of a worryingly off-the-pace Rickie Lambert as the attack's focal point prevented such a score materialising. Lambert, looking oddly overawed, like a man who had won a lottery to play with his heroes, was disappointingly ineffectual yet again and most Reds fans will have gone to bed dreaming of a striking superstar arriving at Anfield before the window closes.

Of course, as if to prove the earlier thesis, we will hope that Lambert and Johnson will come good and we will lean on the old adage that it's only pre-season. After all, with Daniel Sturridge and Jon Flanagan injured and Alberto Moreno (hopefully), Javier Manquillo, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren still to see, it has hardly been an accurate reflection of Rodgers' post-Suarez Liverpool. Many, especially in the wake of the loss to the Mancunian foe, will write off the whole tour as a waste of time but the manager, a man of boundless enthusiasm who would deride your scribbler's aforementioned philosophy, was characteristically phlegmatic and positive in his assessment.

"Overall I'm delighted with the whole tournament and what it's done for us," he insisted. "It seems like we've been away a long time, but we've worked very hard and we'll leave here with lots of positives and with two weeks to go look forward to the new season. It was a really good game for teams at the end of the pre-season. Both teams have had a real good work out out here. We were well worth the lead and had a couple of other chances, it looked like we maybe should have had another penalty, and obviously Man United were in a moment where it was difficult for them. But we conceded a disappointing goal and then very quickly conceded a second goal, so the game started to get stretched a wee bit."

So much for the fan's doom-laden analysis of last night's defeat. Of course, the area of player recruitment is always going to cause the angst-o-meter to peak. There have been considerable amount of new boys leaning on assorted inanimate Melwood objects to date and strong links to a few more but with Sturridge worryingly injured and Lambert struggling somewhat, the calls for a new forward are reaching an uncomfortably screeching pitch. Well Brendan, what about it?

"That was the idea to sign a number of more players," reassured the Antrim man. "Our squad was very thin last year so we needed to bring in players of quality to strengthen the group. The players we have at the moment are in very good condition and with one or two maybe to come in but certainly by Southampton we will be ready and we really look forward to it."

The manager unsurprisingly brought the focus back to what had been good in the Liverpool showing and in Raheem Sterling the club possess one of the continent's most exciting prospects. His level is still undeterminable. In fact, there seems to be no ceiling on what the mutton-chop sporting nineteen year old can achieve under Rodgers' tutelage. The manager concurs.

"He was outstanding, he was a real threat – the intensity in his game, how he presses the ball, tactically he's very aware for a young player and he's so exciting to watch," said Rodgers. "When he runs at defenders he can create many opportunities. At 19, he's a real talent and he's getting better all the time."

Rodgers, looking increasingly imposing in his biceps-revealing training tops, was also bullish about securing the services of the club's other diminutive magician, Philippe Coutinho, on a long term deal. Nothing has been arranged just yet, but the Carnlough native is confident of getting a contract finalised in the near future. With Sterling, Coutinho, Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic providing the bullets for Sturridge, Liverpool fans are justified in their high hopes for the season to come but as we watched Glen Johnson and Lucas Leiva trailing haplessly in the wake of Ashley Young, ahead of United's third last night, there was confirmation that such hope will always be tempered by regular wails of disappointment and frustration. There are no systems for self-preservation when you're a football fan. We're all-in and it's glorious.