Winners and Losers from Liverpool's International Champions Cup Campaign
Steven Gerrard scored from the spot in the first half after Raheem Sterling won a penalty from a Phil Jones challenge, but goals from Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard saw the Reds end their ICC campaign on a low note after a successful American tour.
A 1-0 win over Olympiakos, a penalty shootout win over Manchester City following a 2-2 draw and a 2-0 victory over AC Milan showed plenty of signs that Brendan Rodgers’ side would still stick to the same style that won them so many plaudits last season, despite the exit of star striker Luis Suarez.
Yet, while there are players who have definitely benefited from the chance to impress Rodgers in the U.S., there are a few who have inevitably ended the pre-season tour with their first-team chances looking grim ahead of the new season.
Here are 10 winners and losers—five each—from Liverpool’s International Champions Cup campaign. Let us know your picks and thoughts in the comments below.
Loser: Glen Johnson
Sometimes, it appears that Glen Johnson has unfairly become the scapegoat of many of Liverpool’s defensive woes in the eyes of Reds fans, but sometimes, he doesn’t do himself many favors either.
With the Reds severely lacking in depth in the full-back areas, Johnson has been the beneficiary and has been awarded ample playing time to prove his worth to Rodgers, especially given that his contract at Anfield runs out next summer.
Yet, instead of dispelling widespread criticism over his lackluster contributions and eccentric positioning, Johnson has increased an urgent need to strengthen on the flanks to add defensive and positional solidity to their defence.
And with Alberto Moreno and Javi Manquillo looking likely to seal moves to Liverpool soon, via Alex Harris of the Daily Express, Johnson could find himself kicking his heels on the bench sooner than later.
As Lucas appears ever slower, less fit and less convincing in defensive midfield, his Liverpool career looks ever closer to coming to an ignominious end.
Just two seasons ago, it shouldn’t have looked that way: After all, Lucas had appeared to resurrect his own reputation and career by way of hard work and had won over Reds fans with his improved performances.
Yet, he has increasingly looked out of place in Rodgers’ quick and tactically intelligent setup, with Steven Gerrard taking his place at the base of the midfield in the second half of last season.
In Liverpool’s current midfield, Lucas is alarmingly uncomfortable and doesn’t have the composure, technique or vision to perform the duties his teammates and manager ask of him. Emre Can’s impressive start to life as a Red will only hasten Lucas’ decline.
Loser: Pepe Reina
Pepe Reina didn’t really have a Liverpool future to begin with, such was the public manner of his departure to Napoli on loan last year, despite his agent’s claims to the contrary this summer, as per TuttoNapoli.it (via Nadia Carminati of Sky Sports).
But surely Rodgers’ refusal to grant him any minutes—instead, preferring to give Brad Jones more playing time—during the Reds’ pre-season tour has added insult to an already considerably large injury.
With seemingly no suitors on the market, Reina is now rumored to be in discussions with the club over a termination of his contract two years ahead of its expiry, according to Bruce Archer of the Daily Star, citing reports in Italy.
A rapid fall from grace for one of Liverpool’s best goalkeepers in recent history.
Loser: Daniel Agger
From being hailed publicly by Rodgers earlier this summer, via Sky Sports, to not figuring much in the Reds’ American tour, Daniel Agger has experienced a drastic turnaround in fortunes in just a few weeks’ time.
After all, the vice-captain had just been the centre of attention when the club traveled to Brondby for a friendly fixture, marking a first return for Agger to his boyhood club.
With Mamadou Sakho in imperious form upon his return following his World Cup duties with France earlier this summer and the signing of Dejan Lovren, Agger’s first-team place is well and truly in doubt ahead of the new season.
Simon Jones of the Daily Mail reports that Barcelona and Brondby are waiting in the wings to sign Agger from Liverpool. Instead of playing his way back into first-team contention, Agger has come out a true loser from their otherwise successful pre-season tour.
Loser: Rickie Lambert
When Rickie Lambert signed from Southampton for his boyhood club earlier in the summer, the transfer promised to be a good one: a motivated fan of the club looking to prove his quality and a strong physical presence allied with good vision and technique.
And when Daniel Sturridge flew back to Liverpool to continue treatment over a minor hamstring complaint, it looked as if Lambert would be the main beneficiary, given the lack of senior strikers in the team.
But it has turned out almost completely to the opposite: Instead of settling in straight away and becoming a focal point of the attack, Lambert has looked lost and isolated upfront, and his stamina, pace and work rate have looked curiously out of form in a side increasingly accomplished on and off the ball.
Loic Remy’s failed transfer highlighted the club’s ambition to sign at least one more striker to bolster the squad. Lambert has completely failed to address that problem.
Winner: Jon Flanagan
Without featuring much at all over pre-season, Jon Flanagan has already come out a winner.
A reflection of the dearth in quality currently available to Rodgers at the full-back positions—Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Jack Robinson haven’t done nearly enough to justify first-team slots this season—but also a testament to Flanagan’s own resurgence.
Flanagan’s versatility and defensive focus will come in handy this season as Liverpool fight on four fronts against different levels and styles of opponents, and his maturing tactical intelligence will stand him in good stead.
Still not technically accomplished enough to assume a long-term role as starting right-back, Flanagan will likely feature prominently at the start of the season, simply because he is the best option out of a mediocre pool.
Winner: Mamadou Sakho
Liverpool fans knew they were getting a gem when they signed Mamadou Sakho from Paris Saint-Germain last summer, but a stop-start campaign started planting seeds of doubt into their minds.
And if a successful World Cup campaign for the France defender went a long way to dispelling many untruths about Sakho’s clumsiness and rashness, Liverpool’s pre-season tour has done wonders for his own confidence.
Sakho has been a rock at the back for the Reds during the ICC campaign, impressing with his composure, passing and aerial dominance alongside Martin Skrtel.
There were whispers that Rodgers’ signing of Lovren, a fellow left-sided centre-back by trade, would put pressure on Sakho’s first-team prospects. The way things are going, Lovren had better start making his adjustment to play on the right-hand side as soon as possible.
Winner: Emre Can
Just like Sakho, Liverpool fans knew to expect good things from Can following his arrival from Bayer Leverkusen earlier this summer, but not many would’ve expected him to settle so well so soon.
At just 20 years of age, Can might have been signed with an eye on the future, but on current evidence, he seems to be very ready for the present, following his eye-catching displays while on tour in the United States.
Physically imposing and technically accomplished, Can has the perfect blend of attributes to excel in the hustle and the bustle of the Premier League and the attitude and the leadership to take charge in a Liverpool midfield that was at times exploited last season.
Can has mostly made his name as a deeper-lying midfielder, but his box-to-box performances transitioning defence into attack over the past few games have been both refreshing and exciting, and it bodes well for the season ahead.
Winner: Jordan Henderson
We’ve all known that Jordan Henderson’s fitness and work rate have impressed Rodgers, and playing in the club’s first friendly against AS Roma after just reporting back for first-team training was a testament of Rodgers’ belief and faith.
But Henderson had always seemed to lack that crucial element of authority and air of confidence that would allow him to step out of Gerrard’s shadow and assume more responsibility in the midfield.
During his ICC campaign, however, Henderson has started to add that all-important aura and imposed his game in matches. Dovetailing nicely with Philippe Coutinho and even looking accomplished out wide—where he first struggled under Kenny Dalglish—Henderson is looking every inch Liverpool’s resident midfield dynamo.
Now, his next task is to add more goals to his game. Rodgers has already issued a public challenge to score “upwards of 10 goals this season,” via Jack De Menezes of The Independent. It might actually happen.
Winner: Philippe Coutinho
In the absence of Suarez, who will step up to assume the mantle of Liverpool’s most important player? Sturridge’s goalscoring exploits last year may make him a standout candidate, while Raheem Sterling has made an excellent case for himself this summer as well.
But that much was known. What wasn’t entirely a convincing prospect last season, though, has well and truly surfaced as a strong possibility this summer. Coutinho may well be Liverpool’s most important player this season.
Rodgers has already acknowledged Coutinho as his team’s “brain” this summer, via David Maddock of the Daily Mirror—high praise from a coach that so heavily prizes technical accomplishment and tactical maturity—but his transition from a No. 10 to a more all-round No. 8 has been so remarkable and seamless that even Rodgers will be proud.
Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic’s signings may have presented a threat to Coutinho’s place in the first team on paper earlier this summer, but with news that Liverpool will be offering the Brazilian a new contract, as per Chris Bascombe and Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph (via Mike Whalley of ESPN FC), it looks as if they are the ones who have to fight for their place.