Liverpool Preseason Grades: Who's on Fire, Who Needs to Step Up

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2012

Liverpool Preseason Grades: Who's on Fire, Who Needs to Step Up

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    Liverpool's countdown to the start of the Premier League season is well and truly underway, with new boss Brendan Rodgers already having had his first competitive match in charge with the first leg of the Europa League qualifier against Gomel.

    The second leg will be played on Thursday, August 9, with one more friendly—at home to Bayer Leverkusen—to come before the big kick off against West Brom on August 18.

    The Reds are still expected to be active in the transfer market, with players both leaving and arriving before the window shuts, but players already at the club have been pressing their cases—or otherwise—in a series of preseason friendlies and the training sessions.

    Here are the grades for each player so far, and what they need to do to step up and force their way into Brendan Rodgers' plans for the new campaign.

     

    *Youth players' ratings are relative. An "8/10" for a youth/reserve defender is not the same as one for a senior player; they have simply done well for their experience levels and should not therefore be expected to challenge for an immediate first team place.

Goalkeepers

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    Brad Jones

    Last season's third-choice stopper has been thrust into the starting role this pre-season with the absence of Pepe Reina and the odd exclusion entirely from the team of Alexander Doni.

    Jones played in all three North American tour matches and performed well enough, though there were rarely too many tests for him to be fair. Against Gomel he was called into action far more, and produced two or three good saves—but was also a little lucky that some wayward finishing didn't cost him a clean sheet.

    7/10 - Has done enough to stay No. 2 for the coming campaign.

     

    Peter Gulacsi

    Returned from his loan spell of last season, Gulacsi sat on the bench for the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley against Everton last season. This summer, he has been Jones' backup, keeping goal in the friendlies.

    Though he perhaps would have liked to have done better with the goal conceded against Toronto, Gulacsi has been largely solid and will hope to get his chance to make his debut this season.

    6/10 - Could go out on loan, but Liverpool need three 'keepers at the club. Good enough for the squad for now.

Right Backs

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    Glen Johnson

    After his extended rest following Euro 2012 duty, Glen Johnson made his comeback against Gomel, playing 45 minutes.

    He did not look too sharp, understandably.

    A week's more training and conditioning work will have done him some good, and he will likely play further part in the second leg. Johnson will start the season as first choice right-back for Liverpool and will probably be fine by the time the season starts—but his very small run out so far this summer wasn't impressive.

    5/10 - Shoddy passing, decision making and slow turning. All will be eradicated in a week or two, no worries.

     

    Martin Kelly

    Like Johnson, Kelly had time off with the England internationals, so has only had 45 minutes himself, replacing Johnson for the second half against Gomel. Kelly got forward a bit more and looked more energetic than his positional rival.

    One through ball in particular was well-executed to Fabio Borini.

    6/10 - Looked fine, if a little rusty, but hard to rate just 45 minutes of football higher.

     

    Jon Flanagan

    With the above two players absent, Flanagan started the preseason as the senior right-back. He looked out of sorts for one of the games on tour, but was his usual steady self in possession and, as always, was quick to get involved in tackles.

    Flanagan, in all honesty, is better than the reserves and not quite ready to play more often for the first team. That needs to point to one road: a loan spell.

    6/10 - Might have seized his chance a little better. Calm on the ball and still looks a prospect, but needs to get playing regularly now.

     

    Ryan McLaughlin

    A stand-out performer, despite a very short time on the field. McLaughlin looked sharp, showed good adventurism and acceleration down the flank and always looked to overlap in the final third.

    Way too early to call, and certainly after only half a game, but McLaughlin is certainly a talent and impressed in his stint in the side.

    8/10 - Got a chance, and took it. A full Northern Ireland international call-up caps a great summer for the 17-year-old.

Left Backs

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    Jose Enrique

    The safest man in the squad for his place—or so he should be. Having released Fabio Aurelio and signing nobody, Liverpool have a single senior left-back in their ranks, which is Jose Enrique.

    The Spaniard, however, is just not getting on board with the whole pass-simply-and-quickly philosophy. Instead, he is intent on continuing his fruitless meanderings into hoards of opposition defenders, giving away the ball by running into dead ends and generally looking as though he has few cares in life.

    That's fine in some places, but not in that Red shirt Jose.

    He needs to get his act together.

    5/10 - As the only senior choice, he should be leading by example and working harder. He isn't.

     

    Jack Robinson

    The youngest ever Liverpool debutant struggled with injury last season but looks over that now as he has put in a series of decent performances in the preseason.

    A different kind of full-back to Jose Enrique, he keeps the width of the pitch far better and is quick to look for a give and go with players ahead of him.

    He has crossing ability, but perhaps Jose still has the edge on him there. Robinson is fierce in the tackle though and has pace. If he continues his progression, he has a chance to make an impact on the first team this season.

    7/10 - Solid without being spectacular. He is a potentially spectacular player though, once fitness and sharpness come back.

Centre Backs: Seniors

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    Martin Skrtel

    The Slovakian defender slotted straight into Liverpool’s defence at the beginning of summer, working out the rustiness of his game and settling into his stride nice and quickly.

    After a great season last time around, big things are expected of Skrtel at Anfield this season, and he will have to up his game even further as Liverpool bid for better things this year in the league.

    Skrtel has been mainly steady, despite the swapping of playing partners. A few odd moments of rash clearances, poor headers and the like are part and parcel of preseason and can be ignored for now.

    7/10 – A decent rest this summer should have Skrtel raring to go. More of the same from last term please.

     

    Jamie Carragher

    Liverpool’s stalwart has, in the first leg against Gomel, played his 700th Reds match, a milestone for sure.

    His playing time was limited last season as Skrtel and Agger emerged as the preferred partnership, and it’ll be more of the same this season.

    However, Carragher has displayed good presence of mind to adapt his game slightly to the possession based approach from Rodgers, though playing a higher defensive line in the future than the Reds have managed in the summer might present more of a challenge.

    7/10 – Steady and reliable as ever. Carragher will get about 25 games this season in all competitions, and will prove an invaluable squad player.

     

    Daniel Agger

    The Danish defender has played just one half of a friendly game, and displayed all his usual talents such as bringing the ball out of defence, looking to switch the play quickly and being a great reader of the game.

    His non-appearance against Gomel was due to needing to improve fitness, but he should feature in the second leg. He is a massive player for Liverpool.

    6/10 – Needs more game time before the season starts, but hugely effective and influential at the back.

Centre Backs: Youngsters

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    Danny Wilson

    There have been just a couple of appearances for Wilson so far, and one of those was at left-back.

    There have been calls for the Scot to get more of an opportunity to shine, but with the amount of defenders who played for the Reds over preseason, the question surely needs to be asked: Is he not showing enough in training to suggest that he can have an impact?

    Wilson has done nothing really in the games he has had to show he can genuinely push for a league spot in the team.

    5/10 – Another loan spell beckons for Wilson, who has a single year left on his deal.

     

    Stephen Sama

    The German defender was tough and imposing, a physical presence at the back who showed a decent range of passing, short and long.

    He also gave the ball away unnecessarily, got caught out of position and beaten easily in the air at times.

    In short, he’s everything a young centre-back should be—promising and with talent, but also with issues to work on in the reserves over the coming year.

    6/10 – He got the nod to try out at centre-back ahead of the next player on the list. He did well, and needs to keep working hard.

     

    Andre Wisdom

    Wisdom actually featured for Liverpool at right-back this summer, but is far better in his natural position of centre back.

    His pace is an asset on the flanks, but he is not naturally inclined to roam forward and doesn’t have the technique to trouble opponents on the ball.

    5/10 - The experience of being with the first team was important, but we didn’t see anything new from Andre.

Defensive Midfielders

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    Jay Spearing

    In the absence of Lucas Leiva at the start of the summer—as he gently reintroduced himself to the first team scene—Spearing was the first choice holding player.

    Sitting in front of the defenders, this position is arguably the most important one for Brendan Rodgers to get right in implementing his chosen 4-3-3 formation and playing style for Liverpool.

    Unfortunately, though Spearing has talents, he is not a defensive midfielder and forcing him to play this role highlights his shortcomings—namely his decision making, passing under pressure and lack of ability to cover the entire width of the pitch effectively.

    4/10 – It's ot entirely his fault, being out of position and under-helped, but Spearing’s role in the side looks to be over.

     

    Lucas Leiva

    Leiva is one of the few midfield players Liverpool supporters genuinely were looking forward to seeing return to action this summer. With his long injury layoff over, Lucas is now stepping up his efforts to play regularly, featuring in the tour friendlies and then as a second half sub against Gomel.

    His passing, pressing and tackling have already been evident, and he can have a massive impact on the team shape and their ability to retain possession.

    If he gets a start in the second leg, he will be well and truly on the road to recovery.

    8/10 – He was thundered into several challenges within minutes of returning, which was great to see. Also, his passing and willingness to control the game are massive components that the Reds missed last term.

Centre Midfielders: Seniors

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    Steven Gerrard

    The club captain returned in the final preseason friendly of the tour, playing against Spurs despite only being back with the club for a short time.

    As was evidenced against Gomel in the first leg, Gerrard is way short of match sharpness, and his touch and passing were atrocious.

    Never mind though, he’s Steven Gerrard. We can safely assume his form will be fine.

    5/10 – Liverpool will look for him to improve in the second leg to ease qualification, but overall, nobody will be worried.

     

    Jordan Henderson

    Like Gerrard, Henderson only featured in the final game and then against Gomel, where he played around an hour.

    Henderson will need more time to learn his new role in the team and gain fitness after a longer break, but his passing game and ability to find space quickly in the centre of the pitch will be big assets. He should have a good influence on Liverpool’s midfield this season.

    6/10 – He showed more inclination to get forward against Gomel than he usually did last season. His passing could be the key to success.

     

    Charlie Adam

    The first teamer from last season with the most to lose, Adam is down the pecking order in at least fourth choice midfielder at the moment, perhaps even fifth behind Shelvey. Iif Joe Allen is signed by the Reds, he could go even further down that list.

    Adam can pass the ball, but too often chooses the wrong type of pass. A lofted 35-yard ball over the defence to an onrushing striker just isn’t helpful in preseason, and the Reds are learning to play a different way. Adam himself doesn’t have the touch to match his vision, and the forward is still huffing and puffing his way through preseason training, not able to sprint onto wayward passes into space.

    His decision making, tracking back, penchant for dribbling to nowhere and woeful set piece delivery have all been thrown into sharp relief during preseason—though he did score a spiffing goal against Toronto.

    4/10 – There is much more work to do if he wants to stay at the club or on the team.

Centre Midfielders: Youngsters

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    Jonjo Shelvey

    The youngster has come back with a mountain of talent to show off and the attitude and desire to go ahead and do it.

    Shelvey has looked stronger, faster and more determined this summer, and when starting games, he has linked up the front and back of the team, supported in the area and has not been afraid to take responsibility.

    9/10 – Relatively speaking, Shelvey has been the most impressive performer over the summer. He needs to get a chance in competitive games now to make the most of his enthusiasm.

     

    Suso

    A decent performance in centre midfield was followed up by an anonymous one on the right side of the attack.

    Suso is precociously talented but lacks the stamina, pace and, at times, even the execution at first team level to have an impact at present.

    7/10 - He's definitely worth keeping an eye on, but he's not quite there yet.

     

    Krisztian Adorjan

    Adorjan featured twice on tour.

    The first time, he was in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role where he was clearly lost in terms of positioning.

    His second appearance came in his usual attacking midfield role though, and he showed glimpses of the passing and vision which makes him a dangerous player at reserve team level.

    6/10 - He had some nice touches in the second game. The experience will have done him good.

Wide Forwards

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    Joe Cole

    An injury hampered his chances of having a real impact in his first competitive game back, but Cole has worked hard during the friendlies and is clearly ready to fight for his place.

    The same issues remain on the pitch though—stamina, the pressing game and Joe Cole just don’t seem to mix well. He loses his positional sense too easily when trying hard to press defenders, though his effort is commendable.

    On the ball, the Reds need more from him to really see him as a first choice option.

    7/10 – He’s done alright, but nothing spectacular. He's ikely to stay and be a sub for now.

     

    Stewart Downing

    He only played a few minutes in the tour friendlies, but was in the starting line-up for the Gomel first leg.

    Downing needs to have a far better campaign than the last one, but has begun it in the best possible way, scoring the winning goal against Liverpool's Europa League opponents.

    He can be a real threat for the Reds playing from the right hand side. He might not turn out to be the regular starter that he would hope to be, but he provides a different option in the squad, playing as an out and out winger on the left or cutting in from the right.

    8/10 - It's hard to grade him after such a short spell on the pitch, but he had a good impact. Keeping it up will be the difficult.

     

    Raheem Sterling

    The young flyer has been a big part of preseason for Liverpool, partly because of numbers available in the final third but also, one would like to think, because Brendan Rodgers is using the chance to see what he can actually do against senior players on a regular basis.

    Wise, if so, before the season starts.

    Sterling has been hit and miss in the summer. Obviously the pace is there but the ball control hasn't quite been what supporters have come to expect. A few flashes of brilliance here and there though hint at what could be a great season for him.

    7/10 - What Liverpool and Rodgers must take from Sterling's preseason is that he can be effective from the left. He is not, however, a right winger.

     

    Jordan Ibe

    Ibe played just 45 minutes in Liverpool's first game but looked a handful.

    A fit, fast and direct player on the right side of attack, he was unafraid to run with the ball and created some good opportunities for the team.

    Knowing when to release the ball is obviously an issue with such a young attacking player, but that will come with time.

    7/10 - Given his limited spell on the pitch, Ibe can nevertheless be justifiably proud with his play.

Centre Forwards

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    Fabio Borini

    The Italian forward remains Liverpool's only signing of the summer to date, and has excited supporters with his cameo appearances.

    Doubtless this is more to do with his "newness" rather than any actual footballing ability, as his minutes on the pitch have coincided with slow, ponderous performances from the team in general, making any sight of goal for the striker unlikely.

    He did show good movement, work rate and fitness levels against Gomel though. Playing centrally then, Borini will probably be used more often on the left of the attack for the Reds initially. His link up play with midfield and fellow forwards will be important, and Borini looks like he could excel there.

    7/10 - Give him credit for coming back earlier than necessary for his holidays to get stuck into his new team. Borini has work to do, but he's certainly a quality addition to the final third and should be a good player for the Reds.

     

    Nathan Eccleston

    It's a make or break season for the young striker. With no senior forwards on tour he got his chance to start games, and at times, showed a bit of pace and willingness to attack goal.

    However, Eccleston did not show anything to suggest he would trouble Premier League defences, and this is perhaps the salient point to take from preseason.

    5/10 - This was maybe his last chance to make it at the Reds, but he didn't show enough quality.

     

    Adam Morgan

    Far younger than Eccleston is Adam Morgan, who scored a close-range goal to mark his first team debut. Praise has been coming in from high places for the forward, but he has work to do yet before being considered a first team substitute option.

    Morgan has wonderful finishing ability and can find a pocket of space in the box, but his link-up play and work outside the area needs improvement.

    7/10 - There has been nothing wrong with his current level and he must continue to build on this preseason.