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Liverpool Preseason Focus: Brendan Rodgers' Tactics, Emre Can and Rickie Lambert

PRESTON, LANCASHIRE - JULY 19: Emre Can of Liverpool in action during the pre season friendly match between Preston North End and Liverpool at Deepdale on July 19, 2014 in Preston, Lancashire.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2014

Liverpool's second pre-season friendly of the summer ended in a 2-1 win over Preston North End, following a comeback from a goal down at Deepdale.

Jordon Ibe led the comeback for the Reds as his runs and passes set up both strikes, scored by Suso and Kristoffer Peterson, after Liverpool had initially gone behind right on half-time.

Throughout Liverpool's pre-season campaign we're following their preparations for the 2014-15 Premier League season, mapping out Brendan Rodgers' tactics and focusing on two players each game. They'll be players who either have something to prove over summer or have recently joined the club—with the Preston match featuring and focusing on debutants Emre Can and Rickie Lambert.

 

Tactics

In a deviation from the first friendly against Brondby, where Liverpool played 4-3-3 throughout, Rodgers opted to begin the match with a midfield diamond and two centre-forwards, the system much favoured over the second half of last season.

PRESTON, LANCASHIRE - JULY 19:  Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers looks on during the pre season friendly match between Preston North End and Liverpool at Deepdale on July 19, 2014 in Preston, Lancashire.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Lucas Leiva played the holding midfield role, Joe Allen and Emre Can the wider positions and Philippe Coutinho the No. 10, with Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert paired in attack.

However, this lasted just 20 minutes as an injury to German midfielder Can saw Rodgers introduce Ibe and revert to a 4-3-3, with Borini pushing left.

Most changes came on the hour mark, with the remaining 30 minutes of the game an entertaining sight for viewing the youngsters on show, but, in truth, few of them will feature for the Reds' first team on a regular basis this season and, as such, the tactics of the side bore little relevance on forthcoming competitive games.

HYDE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 23: Jordan Rossiter of Liverpool U21 in action during the Barclays U21s Premier League match between Manchester City U21 and Liverpool U21 at Ewen Fields on September 23, 2013 in Hyde, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Ima
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Nonetheless, it was impressive to see the younger players pressing in groups in midfield at times and the tempo was arguably better in that latter stage of the match, especially once the equalising goal went in. Earlier on, Coutinho's dribbling through the middle was a feature of the game, but not always in areas which hurt Preston and he couldn't see much movement ahead of him.

Elsewhere, Jon Flanagan played on both sides of defence, Andre Wisdom played an hour at centre-back and, in a change from the Brondby match, Jordan Rossiter came on to play the controlling midfield role particularly well, while Conor Coady featured as the box-to-box midfielder. With limited forward options still available, Peterson saw out the final half-hour as the Reds' centre-forward.

 

Emre Can

Fans would have been hoping to see a bit more of Can than they were able to in the end, with his injury forcing him off inside the game's first quarter.

Emre Can was forced off with a calf strain after 20 minutes of his #LFC debut. Here he is with @Deepdale_Duck pic.twitter.com/NnbOnZ6p80

— Liverpool Echo (@LivEchoLFC) July 19, 2014

Even so, the positions Can took up on the pitch are worth noting and Rodgers and his coaches would have seen a handful of instances in possession which they will hope to see plenty more of during the coming months.

In the Reds' diamond midfield, Can started as the right-(central-)sided player of the quartet, looking to run down the channels and link play between midfield and the attack, slipping in the odd pass to the forwards. This in itself is a change from his role at Leverkusen, where he would often operate from the opposite side of the pitch, either left of centre in midfield or else at true left-back.

PRESTON, LANCASHIRE - JULY 19: Fabio Borini of Liverpool speaks to team mate Emre Can as he is substituted with an injury during the pre season friendly match between Preston North End and Liverpool at Deepdale on July 19, 2014 in Preston, Lancashire.  (P
Michael Regan/Getty Images

His straight-line acceleration and strength were both visible in a few instances, as was his comfort in possession and willingness to run at defensive players. Aside from his technical ability and versatility, Can's strength is a surprising and pleasing addition to the Liverpool midfield; not that the team was often bullied last term, but it is certainly an attribute which was not as prevalent as it might have been in certain fixtures.

Rodgers confirmed post-match to LiverpoolFC.com that Emre Can had not suffered a serious injury:

Young Emre was excellent; he showed some lovely touches on the ball. He's got power and pace. He just had a little bit of tightness in his calf, so as a precaution we took him off early on.

 

Rickie Lambert

At Southampton, Lambert was most frequently used as a lone striker with plenty of support, as even with Dani Osvaldo or Jay Rodriguez in the team, one played from the left as a deeper option. Lambert's Reds' debut, then, marked a change for him as he started as one of two, with Borini his partner.

It was pleasing to note Lambert's ability to play off his team-mate's movement in the opening stages, dropping slightly off to the right channel between full-back and centre-back to either receive the ball or let Borini find more space with his runs beyond. Once Daniel Sturridge is back and fit, the potential England partnership will have the extra quality, pace and dribbling that the Reds' No. 15 possesses, allied to Lambert's naturally impressive movement and link-up play.

PRESTON, LANCASHIRE - JULY 19: Rickie Lambert of Liverpool shoots at goal during the pre season friendly match between Preston North End and Liverpool at Deepdale on July 19, 2014 in Preston, Lancashire.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

The latter was particularly noticeable during the 45 minutes he featured for, as the No. 9 showed his usual ability to hold up the ball, bring others into play with chests down and short passes, and also brief glimpses of his more searching, direct passes in behind the defence for running team-mates to latch onto.

Lambert had a couple of half-sighters of goal but the tempo of the game and the generally poor approach play of the Reds' midfield denied the new No. 9 any particularly good opportunities to open his pre-season account.

There will be more to come from the new striker, but he's already sure to play a telling part for Liverpool this season and certainly has the ability to make an impact as a squad forward.

Liverpool's season review for 2013-14 is available here in paperback or for Kindle.

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