After a series of lighter friendlies against Brondby, Preston and Roma, Liverpool stepped up the level of intensity in their preseason by joining in the Guinness International Champions Cup.
The draw saw Liverpool pitted in a group with Olympiakos, Manchester City, and AC Milan. Liverpool opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over Greek champions Olympiakos at Soldier Field.
Raheem Sterling continued his good form from the end of the season and the World Cup with a cheeky finish around Megyeri in the fifth minute, and the Reds were able to hold on, albeit by the narrowest of margins, for the victory.
Impressive start for Markovic
Highlights of the match included a bright debut from Lazar Markovic, whose pace and guile created numerous chances for Liverpool, not to mention a comedic headshot on an unsuspecting steward, as well as another fine display from fellow new boy Emre Can.
Also turning in good shifts were returning World Cup players Daniel Sturridge, Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard, and Coutinho came on as a sub to continue his phenomenal preseason.
This game marked the third time in preseason that Liverpool lined up in a 4-3-3, and it appeared to be the formation that best maximized the Reds’ attacking weapons.
New role for Sturridge
Despite not being a quintessential target man, Sturridge’s movement proved troublesome for the Olympiakos defense, and the pace of Sterling and Markovic on the wings gave him options when he received the ball at his feet.
A stout defensive display, spearheaded by the rejuvenated Sebastian Coates, allowed Liverpool to claim all three points and provided some optimism going into the next match.
However, the Reds had a much more difficult time against Manchester City in New York. The Citizens were by far the best team the Reds had faced this preseason, with a second string squad that could easily be a first team in any other side in world.
Liverpool came out in a 4-3-1-2 with a narrow diamond in the midfield, which gave the new strike partnership of Sturridge and Rickie Lambert their first proper test.
Manchester City’s 4-4-2 exploited the space on the wings though, and the back line was forced to fend off cross after cross to keep the game scoreless at the half. The second half saw a return to the 4-3-3 and with it a return of confidence and comfort.
The team attacked more cohesively and with more fluidity, and the introduction of Sterling and Can provided the impetus to finally find the back of the net.
The defensive frailty that categorized much of the previous season was still evident against Manchester City, as both Jose Enrique and Jack Robinson struggled to cope with the speed of Jesus Navas.
Both of the goals Liverpool conceded were quite scrappy, with the first poked home by Stevan Jovetic after an unfortunate deflection off of Steven Gerrard, and the second again poked home by Jovetic after the ball bounced around in the area.
Liverpool’s attack yielded goals with an air of style, with a nice counter capped off by a sweet Jordan Henderson finish, as well as a brilliant touch and finish by Sterling after some great work from Sturridge. Regulation finished 2-2, and Liverpool prevailed in penalties after some fine saves by Simon Mignolet.
Although it is dangerous to read too much into preseason matches, Liverpool should have some real confidence after the first two games of the Guinness International Champions Cup. They found a way to win both games, and are starting to find their stride going forward.
The signing of Dejan Lovren during the course of this American tour should help shore up the defense, although the need for a quality left back became more apparent against the quality of Manchester City.
As good as the attack looked, the Reds could also stand to sign another attack minded midfielder or forward to exploit the space created by Sturridge’s checking runs. Despite these needs, Liverpool are still looking very promising and are coping about as well as any team could after losing a talent like Luis Suarez.
The Reds’ next match is against perennial rival AC Milan on August 2nd.