Liverpool's pre-season campaign continued in the International Champions Cup on Wednesday night with a 2-2 draw against Premier League rivals Manchester City. Under the terms of the competition the match then went to penalties, which the Reds won 3-1 to claim two points and move top of their group.
Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling both produced fine curled finishes in the second half to twice pull Liverpool level, with Stevan Jovetic scoring both of City's goals. In the shootout, each of Aleks Kolarov, Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas failed to score—Simon Mignolet saving from the latter two—while after Daniel Sturridge blazed his shot over, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva all scored to give Liverpool victory.
As usual, we're following up the game by taking a look at Brendan Rodgers' tactics for the match to gauge his plans for the season ahead, as well as focusing more specifically on the performances of two players, this time defenders Sebastian Coates and Jose Enrique.
Rodgers reverted to a diamond midfield for the start of the game against Manchester City, allowing him to partner Rickie Lambert and Daniel Sturridge in attack for the first time, something he had clearly been looking at during the week, per his comments to LiverpoolFC.com.
I looked at the combination of Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert in training today and they were exceptional; the link-up play and some of their combination play was great...[Lambert] will get goals for us. He's starting to really get comfortable with the group.
It didn't really pan out that way as, after a bright start, the two forwards were left alone in attack too often and City had the upper hand for the latter half hour of the first half.
The midfield diamond was comprised of Steven Gerrard holding, Joe Allen and Henderson in the wider roles and Philippe Coutinho at the tip, though the Brazilian was surprisingly quiet throughout much of the game.
An interesting back four saw Kolo Toure and Coates partnered in the middle, while full-backs Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique were desperate for game time after barely featuring last season.
Despite some good early combination play and a few good runs from deep in midfield from Henderson and Allen, the Reds struggled for any fluidity in the final third and conceded ground too often down the flanks defensively, with Jesus Navas particularly running riot.
After half-time the Reds went back to 4-3-3, their more prominent system during pre-season, with Jack Robinson playing at left-back, Sterling coming in for Lambert to play from the left flank and Emre Can operating in midfield, while Mignolet made his first appearance of the summer in goal.
That layout in the middle gave Liverpool more opportunity to attack with numbers and create chances due to better interplay in the final third, particularly when Sterling managed to get on the ball from the left and run at the City defence. By contrast, they then looked a little more ragged at the back and lacking in protection down the channels.
Rodgers later made a switch which was a first for this pre-season: Henderson was pushed forward behind Sturridge, with Gerrard and Can in a double pivot for a 4-2-3-1, with Coutinho pushed wide right but with plenty of licence to roam infield and attack. It allowed the Reds' No. 14 to drive into the penalty area with greater frequency and, as Sterling continued to have an impact, the switch allowed Liverpool to finish strongly and they almost won the game in 90 minutes with their continued pressure.
Rodgers on Henderson: “This year the big target is to get goals. I think he can get 10 goals plus.”— The Bib Theorists (@TheBibTheorists) July 31, 2014
Spanish defender Jose Enrique played only the first 45 minutes of the game against Manchester City before being substituted at half-time. Common sense and pre-season dictate that the decision was probably made for fitness reasons—but in truth, if it was an on-the-spot decision from Rodgers on account of Jose Enrique's performance, nobody could complain about it.
He was torn to shreds by Jesus Navas in one-on-one situations, but his all-round display was amateurish at best.
Out of position constantly, the Reds' No. 3 failed to stop a number of crosses coming over when City played in behind him down their right, he let his opponent escape him from set pieces twice and was generally lacking in his touch and technique throughout the half.
Jose Enrique has much improvement to make ahead of the new season if he wants to play a more significant role in the team, both tactically and physically. Pre-season can be his excuse for now—but with the Reds sure to bring in a full-back this summer, on this evidence he cannot be a key figure going forward.
Coates has been entrusted with leading the defence in a number of games this season, trying to secure himself a spot in the Liverpool squad for next season after a loan and long-term injury last year.
Playing on the left side of the centre of defence, Coates largely played well, though with one glaring deficiency.
Good of Rodgers to think of the entertainment value for paying fans in NY but I'm not sure Coates and Kolo is the entertainment they want.— Jim Boardman (@JimBoardman) July 30, 2014
He was quick to cover behind Kolo Toure in the first half on more than one occasion, was impressive in the air with his clearances and challenges and passed out of defence extremely capably. His all-round demeanour throughout his 75 minutes on the pitch was one of determination and aggression, clearly looking to seize his chance.
With seven senior central defenders now at the club it's clear that at least two will have to depart this summer and Coates appears to be trying to make sure one of them is not him. Potentially as a consequence of this, Coates was extremely eager to jump into tackles.
Yes he has faults in his game, but I still think the lad Sebastian Coates can become a good defender for Liverpool. #StillLearning— TheOfficialLFCStory (@LFCHistoryShow) July 30, 2014
While he won a couple of them, strongly and well-timed, he also exposed himself at least three times—leaving big gaps behind with little protection for the goalkeeper as a result of the centre-back taking himself out of the game. It is critical in Liverpool's style that the defence is proactive, looking to close the space between the back line and midfield, but the centre-backs must work in tandem on this.
On this occasion both overcommitted at times and, while Coates impressed with the rest of his game, it's the type of instance which can cost a goal in a heartbeat, especially against a side as good in attack as Manchester City.