Liverpool vs. AC Milan: What Brendan Rodgers Learned in Champions Cup Friendly

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2014

USA Today

Liverpool played the final game of their International Champions Cup group stage on Saturday night, as they easily swept aside AC Milan by a 2-0 scoreline.

With Manchester City having lost on penalties to Olympiakos earlier on, the Reds knew they were already in the final on Monday night, which will be against Manchester United in Miami. Joe Allen scored the opening goal of the game in the 17th minute, and Suso scored the second goal late on.

Manager Brendan Rodgers now knows he'll have an extra game to assess his squad and offer them minutes on the pitch while they are stateside, but the Milan match itself was one to take several lessons from for the Reds boss.


Lambert Still Needs Game Time

With Daniel Sturridge sidelined with a knock, Rickie Lambert started as the lone centre-forward for Liverpool.

Flanagan knee injury. Markovic tendon problem. Sturridge missing from training and tonight's match is 'simply a precuation' say the club.

— Kop 305 (@Kop305) August 2, 2014

The new No. 9 certainly made plenty of off-the-ball running, but it was frequently in areas where he was no threat to the Milan defence and didn't really receive the ball to his feet enough in the final third. His missed touch in the penalty box, on the occasions when his team-mates did find him, was off-colour, and he clearly still lacks some sharpness.

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

A missed penalty shows that even the best spot-kick takers cannot have a 100 percent record, but of more concern will be the fact that Liverpool still have nobody else to play up front, as Kris Peterson saw out the remainder of the game after the hour mark. An unfit Sturridge and a lacking form Lambert does not bode well for the start of 2014-15.

Rodgers, though, does not appear overly concerned by Lambert failing to hit the target.

"I spoke to Rickie and I said to him it's only important when it matters in the competition phase," Rodgers said, per the club's official website. "He is obviously disappointed because he can't remember the last time he missed a penalty because he never missed one for Southampton in all the years he played there but he will be fine.

"Rickie will get goals for us, there's no doubt."


The Wide Boys

Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe played either side of Lambert in the first half, with the latter in particular a busy, effervescent and effective player who troubled Milan greatly. Ibe's direct running and willingness to take on defenders saw him win a series of free-kicks around the penalty area, while Sterling made several good runs to link up with Lambert after knockdowns.

Jordon Ibe our best player so far. Milan's tackling, like their play, has been dreadful.

— MrBoywunder (@MrBoywunder) August 2, 2014

In the second half, Suso and Philippe Coutinho took up the wide forward spots, combining to score the second goal of the game.

Those four were among the top performers for the Reds, though each impressed in spells rather than having a consistent impact on the game.

Still, goals from the wide forwards will be vital this season, and Suso's strike marked his second of preseason, while Sterling has also found the net twice this summer.


No Defence

With Dejan Lovren sat on Merseyside with no visa to travel to the States, Liverpool's defence continues to look decidedly second-string.

Jack Robinson had a somewhat error-strewn game against Milan and is unlikely to play a big part in the senior side, while Martin Kelly continues to look some distance off his powerful and influential pre-injury self. Two years down the line, questions have to be asked of whether that version of the defender will be seen again.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 27: Martin Kelly #34 of Liverpool in the second half during the International Champions Cup 2014 on July 27, 2014 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. Liverpool defeated Olympiacos FC 1-0. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

The two centre-backs, Seba Coates and Kolo Toure, were largely untroubled, and that's how they'll likely see out the majority of the season—untroubled, because they won't play many games between them.

For the final in Miami, it would be no surprise to see a total change: Glen Johnson on the right, Jose Enrique on the left and Martin Skrtel partnering Mamadou Sakho in the centre.


Midfield Taking Shape

Liverpool's central midfield isn't hugely different to last season's.

Steven Gerrard will play at the base more often than not, while Joe Allen put in another very good performance against Milan, showing how adept he is at pressing high and contributing to the Reds' controlling, but aggressive, stance through the middle.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 30:  Emre Can #23 of Liverpool in action against Manchester City during the International Champions Cup 2014 at Yankee Stadium on July 30, 2014 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Jordan Henderson's nonstop dynamism and ability to link middle and final thirds is a huge influence on the team's style of play, and it was noticeable after half-time when he went off—but then the appearance of Emre Can shortly afterward was similarly standout.

He, as a powerful runner from deep who can win the ball and play it well along the ground, means Liverpool have three very good pressing, passing options to play the protective, proactive central midfield roles ahead of Gerrard.

Emre Can shoulder barges Balotelli to the floor, then plays a inch perfect through ball. His strength is ridiculous.

— Joseph Musker (@Musker_LFC) August 3, 2014

Add in the irrepressible Coutinho to the mix, presuming he returns to that deeper role more often than not, and there is very much a top-four squad strength in the centre of the park, all who have a range of talents and significantly aid the overall shape and emphasis of the team.



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