Steven Gerrard Testimonial Shows Liverpool's Likely XI and Possible Flaws

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2013

Liverpool combined the fifth preseason match of their summer with Steven Gerrard's testimonial game on Saturday, as they cruised to a 2-0 win over Greek opponents Olympiacos.

The Reds ran out winners after Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson scored the goals, on a day when Anfield saw fleeting returns for Jamie Carragher and Robbie Fowler, as well as a half-hour appearance for Luis Suarez, who received a huge ovation when he entered the field.

As much as the day was about Gerrard and a few other faces, it still formed an important part of Brendan Rodgers' preparations for the new season, and the starting lineup for the game confirmed as much.

XI vs. Stoke?

Rodgers made just one change from the previous friendly, replacing striker Fabio Borini with wide forward Raheem Sterling. That meant the entire defensive framework remained in place and looks likely to be the back six for the Reds on the opening day of the Premier League season: Simon Mignolet, Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger, Jose Enrique and Lucas Leiva.

Allen has probably impressed enough to also start in a bona fide 4-3-3 from Liverpool, which leaves Sterling's place in the team as likely the only one under consideration.

Iago Aspas will start the campaign in the team in one role or another by the looks of things, with the final player coming into the lineup likely to determine if the Spaniard plays centrally or from the right.

Benefits of the System

Liverpool look extremely comfortable in possession with the three-man midfield, and Gerrard-Allen-Lucas combinations were a frequent sight in the first hour of the game.

The two Brits were allowed plenty of licence, and perhaps even instruction, to get forward into the final third to support the attack as often as possible, and such breaks from deep resulted in four good chances in the first half, as well as Allen's close-range opening goal.

Similarly, the midfield base provides more protection for the defence and allows the full-backs to push on, as they did, but not always to good effect in terms of end product.

Up front, Aspas worked the channels extremely well for Liverpool, and his mobility, combined with the runs from deep in midfield, aided the Reds in creating their best chances on goal.

Possible Flaws and Downsides

The first and most obvious flaw was the lack of involvement from Philippe Coutinho in the first half. He was closely marked at times and was forced to stay wide for much of the half, which really deprived Liverpool of creativity on the ball in the final third.

Enrique was able to overlap plenty of times down that left flank, but passing back to Coutinho, far from goal and surrounded by opponents, was not bringing out the best in the Brazilian.

After the break, Coutinho drifted infield far more and was instrumental in some good buildup play, twice splitting the defence with incisive passes from deep.

His linkup with the likes of Aspas or Sterling could be critical for Liverpool, but playing from the left in this system did not get the best out of him.

Liverpool also still lack the real quality in the full-back areas to make the most of the spaces afforded to them to run into. A shortage of pace in midfield will again be exploited by a better team on the break, once they'd gotten past Lucas in buildup play, but this seems almost certain to be Liverpool's starting midfield for the new season, and they need to work much harder on protecting the defence from opposing midfield runners.

Suarez and Sturridge?

Liverpool's two main forwards, Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, have yet to start a preseason game this summer because of international duty and injury, respectively.

When they are available again—and Suarez won't be until September, if at all—it is going to be difficult for Rodgers to accommodate both forwards in this particular system, as well as Coutinho in an effective role and the likes of Sterling or Aspas.

Not to mention Jordon Ibe, who has a great chance of being involved with the first team this season.

It's great to have depth, but Rodgers has to fashion a way of shoehorning most of his best attackers into the starting XI on a regular basis to provide results for the Reds.

They'll only play 42 or 45 games this season—rotation is not necessarily going to be as high on the list of priorities as it will be in other seasons.

If Sturridge continues as the No. 9, at least two of those other talented players are going to miss out, and Suarez and Coutinho both arguably perform at their best when they are playing in the middle.

Of course, there is also the possibility that further new signings are added before the season's start.

Rodgers looks to have settled on his preferred team to start the campaign, but it's not entirely certain yet that he's found the right model of lining up the side to get the most out of all of them.

As the manager himself would say though, it's the team who is the star, not any individual, and Liverpool have recorded five wins with five clean sheets from their five preseason games now—and no argument can be made against the overall effectiveness of the side on that evidence.


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