Toronto vs. Liverpool: 6 Things We Learned from Preseason Friendly
Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers are an official partnership after the two completed their first preseason game in the first leg of their USA Tour, as the Reds played out an entertaining 1-1 draw with Toronto.
Though it was only the first game under the new management after barely three weeks of training, there were still signs during the game that the players have started picking up on Rodgers' methods.
Liverpool played two different teams in each half as the management sought to both continue building fitness up and get a run out for most of the players taken along on the tour.
Young striker Adam Morgan scored Liverpool's goal—an equaliser in the second half after Quincy Amarikwa had earlier set the hosts on their way.
Here are six things we learned in Liverpool's first preseason friendly.
The Return of Lucas Leiva
Not necessarily something we "learned" from the game, but the return of Lucas is a big positive for Liverpool that the team and Rodgers will take from the first preseason fixture.
A 20-minute run-out at the end of the game marks a big milestone in the recovery of the central midfielder, as he returns from seven months out with a cruciate ligament injury.
Originally, the Brazilian was expected to miss nine months, so even this length of time out is not too bad, and he has returned ahead of schedule.
Lucas wasn't overly involved, but he wouldn't have expected to be—this was about getting back on the pitch, back amongst the players and taking another small step along the road to full fitness.
4-3-3 System Is in Place
As advertised, Brendan Rodgers' preferred tactical system is in place nice and early as Liverpool lined up in a 4-3-3 system during both halves in Toronto.
This is a system Liverpool have rarely used in its natural form before this season, but going forward, will be the base for all formations under Rodgers.
Players dependent, there will remain an element of flexibility to play one midfielder further forward or the wider players in slightly different roles, but by and large, this is how Rodgers will want his team to play.
The central trio of Jay Spearing, Charlie Adam and Alberto Aquilani line up in the positions that Liverpool will almost exactly expect Lucas Leiva, Jordan Henderson (or potentially Joe Allen) and Steven Gerrard to play once all are fit and available.
Plenty of Kids Looking to Step Up
Liverpool gave plenty of their reserve and under-18 players a run out in Toronto in the absence of established first-team players who are still on leave after the Euro 2012 exertions.
Stephen Sama, Andre Wisdom, Jordan Ibe, Nathan Eccleston, Peter Gulacsi, Danny Wilson, Jack Robinson, Jon Flanagan, Krisztian Adorjan, Suso, Raheem Sterling and Adam Morgan all got time on the pitch.
Whilst most of them will be back to reserve-team duty once Liverpool return to England, there will certainly still be time to impress Brendan Rodgers, and he's putting good faith in them by allowing them plenty of time on the field.
Dani Pacheco and Suso both impressed against Toronto, while Sterling played an electric role again—while Adam Morgan knocked in the equalising goal from close range.
Returning Loan Players Also Getting Their Chance
It wasn't only the youngsters of the club who were getting a fresh chance under Brendan Rodgers, but also some of the loaned out stars of last season.
Dani Pacheco and Alberto Aquilani started the match in the team for Liverpool, and both looked involved and up for the challenge, though, they noticeably tired towards the end of the first half and were pressing less off the ball.
In the second period, centre-back Danny Wilson and right-sided attacker Joe Cole entered the fray—both seeing out the entire second 45.
One half of preseason football doesn't mean much either way to their long-term careers, but if any of that quartet want to remain at Liverpool, they will have to continue to work hard and impress further in the remaining games.
Out of those four, Pacheco arguably had the biggest impact of the game, looking to attack and cut infield from the left of the front three whenever possible, though, his end product was sadly lacking.
Passing and Ball-Retention Improvement Already Evident
One of the first ideals of Brendan Rodgers for his Liverpool team to implement is to retain the ball better and continually pass the ball about the pitch—through the midfield in particular.
In the first half, Liverpool showed a good grasp of this and set about dominating the match, due in no small part to the efforts of Jay Spearing, who continually picked the ball up from his defenders to start moves forward.
At the time of writing, no statistics were available, but Spearing rarely, if ever, wasted possession in his 45 minutes on the field.
Liverpool controlled the game without creating too many chances in the first half, having over 70 percent of possession at the midway stage of the first period.
The second 45 minutes saw a more adventurous final third and midfield for the Reds, which contributed to less time on the ball but more opportunities being created.
Brendan Rodgers Still Has Much Work to Do
As expected, one preseason friendly doesn't show Liverpool too far removed from the side they were last season—with the notable and welcome exception of not having struck the woodwork at all.
Rodgers still has a lot of work to do in terms of getting Liverpool to play and know his formation, when to press and which players should do it and also how to transform ball possession into goal-scoring chances.
Of course, once the Euro 2012 players return to training next week, including Steven Gerrard, the transition might be made a little smoother.
Other important considerations for the manager are whether or not to include players such as Joe Cole in his plans, who has offered little to the club thus far.
It's just one game at the beginning of his tenure, but the match might have provided Rodgers with as many new questions as answers, as he starts to shape Liverpool in his own image.
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