MATCH CENTRE

Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Liverpool: A Nice Workout

The fourth pre-season game Liverpool played this summer was at Ewood Park against Blackburn Rovers.

The First Part

With the transfer of Alisson Becker not yet officially confirmed, Xherdan Shaqiri still unable to play, Georginio Wijnaldum injured and Danny Ward apparently on his way to Leicester, Jurgen Klopp chose the following men to play the first 45 minutes:

The much criticized Loris Karius in goal, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan in front of him, Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno on either side of them, Milner anchoring the midfield with Adam Lallana and Ben Woodburn, and Sheyi Ojo playing off Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi.

Liverpool had a penalty early on after David Raya brought down Solanke in the box, but the Blackburn goalkeeper made amends by reading Milner’s shot perfectly to deny him an opener.

As expected, Liverpool easily dominated possession with the Rovers mostly defending deep, but it wasn’t all a walk in the park. The hosts defended with focus and zest, and the Reds had trouble in finding a creative spark. They all worked hard, nothing can be taken away from their effort, and occasionally the difference in individual quality between the two sets of players was clear to see, but the quality in the final ball was always missing while Solanke and Origi got in each other’s way a few times.

Feeling the home crowd’s support, the Rovers did get up the pitch on occasion though they mostly messed it up themselves. However, after 33 minutes they won a free-kick in a position favorable for a left-footed shooter, but they missed the target. Buoyed by the attempt, they attacked quickly again and Dominic Samuel, going past Moreno, gave Karius a chance to earn some much-needed confidence with a difficult low drive, and Karius fully took it by producing a fine save.

Two minutes before the break, Lallana beat the ‘keeper twice in quick succession but his first shot hit the bar and the second was cleared off the line, and then Samuel ruined an excellent chance for a counterattack by the Rovers.

After the Break

Apart from Karius staying on, a new team came out for the second half.

Joe Gomez and Andy Robertson played on the flanks of Virgil van Dijk and Nathaniel Phillips in defence, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Curtis Jones formed the three-man midfield, while Rafa Camacho and Lazar Marković (yes, him) flanked Daniel Sturridge upfront.

As for Karius, he was jeered by the home fans throughout the game and it couldn’t have been easy to endure, but he performed very well. He was replaced on the hour-mark by Caoimhin Kelleher and received an applause.

It was a slightly different picture compared to the first period. The hosts came out further up the pitch and attacked more, but that naturally allowed Liverpool to start threatening seriously. First Jones missed the target and then Sturridge did it twice from great positions, both times after being superbly put through by a Keita pass.

And in the 64th minute the deadlock was broken by none other than Marković. Keita brilliantly pressed and won the ball in the opposition half, Sturridge took it and threaded a perfectly weighed pass for the winger who blasted it past the ‘keeper from the edge of the box.

Quickly afterwards Camacho almost scored too but his chip past the ‘keeper was cleared off the line.

But in the case of Sturridge, the third time paid for all as Keita once again stole the ball high up and put him through in the 72nd minute, and the striker coolly placed it past the keeper to score the second.

With three minutes left on the clock, the Rovers could have had a penalty as a cross hit Phillips in the hand, but it would have been a harshly given one as the young centre-back couldn’t really do anything about it.

At the stroke of time, another fantastic pass by Keita found the run of Camacho whose attempt at a chip was well-read and saved.

The Afterthought

It was a decent outing for Jurgen and his men. They still aren’t putting everything into their game which is quite understandable. We don’t want any unnecessary injuries.

Keita was once again the standout performer, this time the undisputed Man of the Match. Even though he registered only one assist, both goals were actually his work and had Sturridge and Camacho been a bit more ruthless, there could have been more goals. All his work.

But Sturridge should also be mentioned. A goal and an assist speak for themselves. Marković started the half quietly but as the game progressed, he grew into it more and more. The goal gave him a notable boost and looked very lively from there on. Phillips is turning into a sort of revelation of this year’s pre-season. He’s playing in a very mature way, he’s very shrewd in reading the game which makes him an excellent front-foot defender. He also boasts plenty of strength and aerial prowess, and he’s very quick too.

Origi and Solanke both looked solid in the first half but it seems they don’t make a very good partnership. They are both very active in and around the box, but neither likes to drop a bit deeper and help with the buildup. The way Sturridge is playing right now, and given his recently expressed wish to stay and fight for game-time, the two younger strikers will have a hard time proving to Klopp that they deserve to be in this team when the season starts.

Next up – the USA tour.

We walk on.

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