Liverpool vs. Olympiacos: 5 Things We Learned
Liverpool overcame Olympiacos 2-0 at Anfield on Saturday afternoon in skipper Steven Gerrard’s testimonial, with the preseason friendly throwing up a number of points of interest ahead of the new Premier League season.
The Reds won thanks to well-worked goals on either side of half-time from midfield players Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson, who scored with his very first touch after coming on as a substitute.
And to cap off a memorable day for Gerrard and the watching Liverpool fans, two legendary Reds strikers, one former and one present, also made cameo second-half appearances in the form of Luis Suarez and Robbie Fowler, respectively.
However, what did we learn from this warm-up fixture about the Merseysiders as we fast approach the kickoff to the 2013/14 top-flight campaign?
Toure Is Now Ahead of Skrtel in the Race to Be Agger’s Partner at the Back
It had been assumed by most people around Anfield that Liverpool head coach Brendan Rodgers would return to his tried and tested centre-back partnership of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel this season following the retirement of veteran defender Jamie Carragher at the end of the previous campaign.
However, with the Northern Irishman seemingly selecting his first-choice starting XI for the new season against the Greek champions on Saturday, that does not now appear to be the case, with recent new signing Kolo Toure getting the nod ahead of the Slovakian.
And with Skrtel having been heavily linked with a loan move to Napoli this summer, say Football Italia, it appears as though Rodgers has decided, much as he did with Pepe Reina, that he cannot risk basing his first-team plans next season around players who have question marks hanging over their future at the club.
All of which means that the experienced Ivory Coast international, brought to Anfield on a free transfer from Manchester City at the start of this month, is clearly going to be far more than a bit-part backup on Merseyside in the new campaign.
Aspas Looks a Real Find
"Iago who?" was the cry when Rodgers bought the Celta de Vigo forward for £7 million this summer, but after a hugely impressive preseason in which the 26-year-old has both scored and created goals for team-mates, as he did for Allen’s opener against the Greeks, Reds fans now know fully just who the Spaniard is.
Aspas was at it again against Olympiacos on Saturday, playing up front in a forward three flanked either side by Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho and displaying a number of eye-catching flicks and deft touches to go along with his all-round attacking menace through the middle.
Sterling and Allen Have Recovered Well from Last Season’s Injury Problems
Both Sterling and Allen saw their campaigns prematurely disrupted last time around by injury, with the former suffering from a succession of niggling problems that restricted the winger to just a handful of appearances after January.
Meanwhile, the Wales international was forced to undergo surgery on a long-running shoulder problem in March that brought an end to his debut season at Anfield.
However, judging from their preseason form as a whole, as well as Saturday’s display, both men appear to have now fully recovered from those problems and are fully fit ahead of the start of the new top-flight campaign in a fortnight’s time.
Sterling was outstanding against Olympiacos, helping to create both the opener with a slick interchange of passes with Aspas, with Allen getting on the end of the Spaniard’s cross-cum-shot to poke home an all-too-rare goal from the defensive midfield player, and then the second for Henderson thanks to a sublime through-ball.
And with both players now inked in for the contest with Stoke City at Anfield on Aug. 17, Rodgers will be absolutely thrilled at their on-pitch progress so far this summer.
Liverpool Are Still Far Too Reliant on Coutinho for Attacking Inspiration
The twinkle-toed Brazil international made quite some impact in his first six months on Merseyside after arriving from Inter Milan in the January transfer window for just £8.5 million, registering an impressive three goals and seven assists in just 13 Premier League matches for his new team.
However, as a result, the Reds tend to over-rely on the 21-year-old for creative inspiration, and when the playmaker does have an all-too-rare off day, Liverpool’s attack consequently suffers.
Again, this was all too obvious against the Greek champions, with the majority of the home team’s best moments going forward originating from the feet of the Brazilian schemer. Take him out of the Reds’ starting XI and then you really begin to worry where all their attacking invention will come from.
Football Fans Forgive and Forget Easily
The introduction of the unsettled Suarez in the second half was greeted not with boos, as many may have expected, but with loud cheers instead as Liverpool’s supporters warmly welcomed back their controversial Uruguay international from his summer holidays for what was the forward’s first appearance at Anfield since his infamous biting of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in April.
However, whether their vocal support of the 26-year-old will be enough to persuade him to now change his mind and stay at the club after all next season, rather than move to Arsenal, still very much remains to be seen.