Liverpool faced Toronto FC on the 21st of July 2012 in their first game under new manager Brendan Rodgers. The game, a pre season friendly, was played in Toronto, Canada in the Rogers Centre.
Brendan Rodgers had in his first press conference on taking the coaching mantle promised a different approach to Liverpool's game: a more pressing system with emphasis on ball retention and midfield dominance. Liverpool did not disappoint.
The Reds started with some unfamiliar youngsters on the pitch, Nathan Eccleston, Andre Wisdom, 16 year old Jordon Ibe (formerly of Wycombe Wanderers) and Daniel Pacheco started with regulars Jamie Carragher (captain), Charlie Adam - who was back after a long injury lay off, Jay Spearing and Jose Enrique. Alberto Aquilani and Brad Jones in goal also featured in the first half.
The game started on a fast tempo with Liverpool's game play evident from the onset. Neat triangles started off by Brad Jones were replicated all over the length of the pitch as Liverpool dominated possession in a manner not so familiar to Liverpool fans. In the first few minutes the Toronto players were busy chasing shadows. The statistics confirmed this with Liverpool notching up 75% of possession in the first quarter hour.
Toronto FC were however the first to fashion a shot on goal. A speculative cross in the 7th minute split the Liverpool defence and it took a superb one handed save by Brad Jones to keep the scores at 0-0. Business returned to usual after this scare and the Liverpool team settled into a regular pattern of systematic one touch possession football for most of the remainder of the first half.
It is one thing to hog possession but a different prospect all together in making use of this possession. Jay Spearing acted as the fulcrum of the Liverpool midfield from a defensive midfield position quietly and confidently spraying passes to all corners of the park. He was ably assisted in this department by Aquilani who was himself deployed in an offensive midfield role. Such was the assurance on the ball by Liverpool players that the first misplaced pass was by Jose Enrique in the 22nd minute.
Daniel Pacheco played quite well in the first half showing his repertoire of skills when he ghosted past two defenders in the 14th minute. Liverpool's first attempt at goal came courtesy of a superb 40 yard cross by Charlie Adam which Eccleston just failed to connect to.
In a bid to stymie the possession football being displayed by Liverpool the Toronto FC tactician Paul Mariner made a tactical change in the 28th minute bringing in Tyler Pasher for Ashtone Morgan in a bid to contain Ibe who was having a good time on the right flank. The first half ended 0-0.
In the 2nd half Liverpool made a host of changes: Gulacsi in goal, Robinson, Flanagan, Shelvey, Skrtel, Jesus 'Suso' Fernandez, Danny Wilson, Raheem Sterling, Krisztian Adorjan, Adam Morgan and Joe Cole all coming in.
Liverpool continued to dominate possession as had been the case in the first half. Raheem Sterling provided the width on the left and on several occasions combined well with Suso but failed to craft the killer pass in the final third.
The midfield was however a bit edgy and the second half saw a few misplaced passes especially by Jonjo Shelvey who had taken up the role of Spearing in the middle of the park. It took the introduction of Lucas Leiva in place of Adorjan in the 74th minute to calm matters.
Against the run of play Toronto FC struck first. New signing Quincy Amarikwa pounced on a rebound after a poor punch out by Liverpool 'keeper Gulacsi from a Sergio Carmago shot and calmly slotted the ball in the back of the net handing Toronto the lead. The pace and skill of 2nd half substitute Josh Janniere on the right flank posed a few problems for the Liverpool defence after the opener before he was surprisingly substituted in the 76th minute.
In the 66th minute Suso mesmerized four Toronto FC players as he dribbled past them but his snap shot was well caught. 17 year old Raheem Sterling who had been a constant thorn in the Toronto defence finally brought parity when his pass/shot in the 70th minute set up Adam Morgan who had a simple tap in. Morgan's wild celebration of his first senior Liverpool goal showed how much the goal meant to him.
The game tapered off after the equalizing goal and both teams seemed content with a 1-1 draw which was the end result after the 90 minutes.
Liverpool did not field new signing Fabio Borini nor first team seniors Luis Suarez, Glen Johnson, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard to the disappointment of the fairly large crowd that had gathered to watch the game. This was however not entirely un-expected. Brendan Rodgers would have been looking at giving a run out to his academy players whilst giving some match time to the senior players who were coming off injuries such as Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam.
The absence of Andy Carroll however spoke volumes as it would have been expected that he would have been given the opportunity to impress the new manager in the team's first outing. Liverpool seem quietly determined to offload him to the highest bidder.
Overall the Liverpool performance was acceptable. The academy youngsters gave a fairly good account of themselves. The 4-3-3 formation that Brendan Rodgers prefers seems to have taken root in the team. The players seem comfortable with the new variant of play that the manager has introduced. The possession football displayed by Liverpool was not the languid passing style of Barcelona but more of the high tempo pass and press system that had been used by the Spanish National team to good effect at Euro 2012.
There is still a lot to be done however especially defensively. On a few occasions especially in the 2nd half the back four were caught napping and a more polished outfit than the Toronto team would have capitalized on these mistakes. One may however argue in Liverpool's defence that the team on show was an experimental team and the first choice back four would have given a better account of themselves.
Brendan Rodgers will take a number of positives from his first game in charge. The early signs are good and Liverpool fans can expect progressive growth on the basis of the Red's performance in their first pre-season friendly.
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