Liverpool vs. Bayer Leverkusen: 6 Signs Reds Fans Are Looking for in Friendly

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2012

Liverpool vs. Bayer Leverkusen: 6 Signs Reds Fans Are Looking for in Friendly

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    Liverpool face their final preseason friendly of the season at home to Bayer Leverkusen on Sunday, looking for a good result before starting their Premier League campaign next weekend.

    Of course, the Reds already have their competitive season underway after a two-leg victory over FC Gomel of Belarus. A 1-0 first leg and 3-0 second leg victory saw Brendan Rodgers' side cruise through to the playoff stage.

    One more non-competitive game before the big kickoff gives Brendan Rodgers a chance to hone his tactics, assess more of his players' fitness and see if there are any other areas of the game he particularly needs to work on before the West Bromwich Albion fixture.

    Here are six areas that Liverpool fans will be looking for signs of improvement in during the Anfield friendly.

Another Chance for Some of the Squad Players to Impress

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    It's early days, but Brendan Rodgers already looks to have sussed out his more or less strongest XI, as evidenced by his teams in the two legs against Gomel.

    The likes of Charlie Adam (sub both games), Jay Spearing (started first, sub second), Martin Kelly (sub both games) and Jamie Carragher (started first, sub second) might get additional minutes to prove their case ahead of the start of the season.

    Youngsters Danny Wilson, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey and a few others might also be looking to stake their claim before decisions are made on their immediate future, with loan spells a distinct possibility for some.

    Of course, those who have been handed early chances to impress—Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique for example—will need to ensure their performances are as strong as possible to keep their places for the start of the season.

Passing and Control Against a Better Side

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    Liverpool's second leg against Gomel saw the team, for the first time, really dominate a team for 90 minutes.

    Granted, the opposition was far from the strongest that the Reds will face this season, but every journey starts with a small step, and Rodgers will be encouraged by the way his team retained possession and dominated the match in its entirety.

    After all, the great Dutch side, under the guidance of one of the world's finest tacticians Rinus Michels, first practised their pressing and passing domination against amateur sides to aid them in getting used to how to deal with matches where they had the lion's share of the ball.

    Bayer Leverkusen will represent a big step up in terms of quality for the Reds and they should be approaching peak fitness, so it will be interesting to see how Liverpool fare in trying to dominate this next match.

    A great example of Liverpool looking to pass accurately throughout the game was centre back Daniel Agger:

    Daniel Agger achieved the highest passing accuracy Vs Gomel - 98.81%* of his passes were accurate (Total 84) *Stats collated manually #fb

    — Anfield Index (@AnfieldIndex) August 11, 2012

Another Increase in the Pressing from the Front

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    Fabio Borini, Luis Suarez and Stewart Downing were Liverpool's front three against Gomel in the second leg of the Europa League qualifier.

    While they were most notable for their movement and interlinking which saw the Gomel defence breached time and time again, they also put on a show for the pressing from the front which Rodgers is so keen to see put in place.

    Borini was perhaps the most active and enthusiastic of the trio to this end, but Suarez certainly did his bit too.

    More of the same is required, which will both help the players get used to that particular facet of the game and also help continue to build their match stamina as they increase their on-pitch workload.

Introduction to the Team of Joe Allen

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    After Fabio Borini completed his first two matches as a Liverpool player, the attention of the fans will now turn to Liverpool's second summer signing, the new arrival from Swansea City—Joe Allen.

    Brendan Rodgers has already intimated that Allen will be a key part of his plans, praising his ability on the football pitch.

    He is a unique player in that he is a British player who doesn't give the ball away. He's incredible on the ball. His body work and intelligence for a 22-year-old is frightening.

    You will see when he comes into this team the difference he can make. His game understanding is very good, and he is in love with the football

    Liverpool fans will be keen to see him link up with his new teammates as quickly as possible in anticipation of him starting the Premier League season on the team and hope that he can have as big an impact on the Reds' play as the manager clearly believes he will.

Goalscorers from All over the Pitch

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    Liverpool's biggest area of concern last season was easily the goalscoring department.

    While the woodwork was arguably the biggest villain of the piece, Liverpool played a big part in their own downfall by not getting enough players—and enough different players—into the penalty box on a regular basis.

    As a result, there was very little goal threat outside of Luis Suarez.

    Craig Bellamy chipped in with nine goals, Andy Carroll and Steven Gerrard matched that total—but no player aside from the Uruguayan managed to hit double figures.

    Compare that with the pragmatic but offensive approach of the team under Rafael Benitez, when Liverpool regularly saw five or six players hit the 10-goal mark during a single campaign, and it is clear where the Reds need to have a change of fortune and emphasis.

    In the first two games, four goalscorers have already hit the mark for the Reds, and interestingly none of them have been playing in the centre forward's role.

    This bodes extremely well as it shows other areas of the pitch are getting involved in goalscoring opportunities, making use of the space in the penalty box and looking to link up high up the pitch.

    That is a must for continuance and improvement if the Reds are to do well this season.

    Oh, and for the record, Liverpool are also up and running in the "woodwork" scores this season, after Gerrard smacked the post with a shot in the second half against Gomel.

The Return of Sami Hyypia

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    Above all else, there is one thing Liverpool fans will be looking forward to in the final friendly of the summer: the return to Anfield of Sami Hyypia.

    The Finnish former centre back played an integral part in Liverpool's history for a decade after signing from Willem II, and won a whole host of trophies and accolades in his time at the club including, of course, the UEFA Champions League in 2005.

    Hyypia was a rare defender, with an aerial presence unsurpassed and a reading of the game which meant opponents infrequently bested him.

    Now the manager of opponents Bayer Leverkusen, he will be bringing his side to Anfield in search of a victory over his former club, but Sami remains a much-loved figure at Liverpool and his return will be a welcome one.


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