Liverpool vs. Manchester City: What Reds Learned in International Champions Cup
Liverpool took two points from their International Champions Cup tie on Wednesday after beating Manchester City in a penalty shootout following an exciting 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium in New York City.
Stevan Jovetic got both goals for Manuel Pellegrini’s side, while Brendan Rodgers’ men equalized twice through Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling, with Sterling unlucky to have a late winner ruled out for a tight offside call.
And Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was the star of the penalty shootout, pulling off two impressive saves as the Reds kept their cool to take top spot in their group.
Here are six things Liverpool learned from their second International Champions Cup fixture.
An Improved Second Half for a Change
After a season that saw Liverpool start matches on the front foot, only to take it off the gas in the second half, Wednesday’s performance at Yankee Stadium was a breath of fresh air.
Of course, a large part of the change was down to the fact that Brendan Rodgers started with a reserve center-back pairing as well as Rickie Lambert up front, but when his substitutes had only the second 45 minutes to impress, they did.
Luis Suarez’s departure might have deprived Liverpool of a constant goalscoring threat up front, but it’s evident that Rodgers has instilled the same mentality and playing style across the entire team, and the second half provided strong evidence that the show will go on at Anfield.
Raheem Sterling, Liverpool’s Best Player?
A scintillating second-half performance from Raheem Sterling only confirmed what Liverpool fans have known for the best part of the past half-year: He is the premier young talent in world football.
After a few months of stunning development, the 19-year-old has well and truly prospered into one of Liverpool’s most important players—and the way he’s still improving, it wouldn’t be outlandish to suggest that he is already the best player at Anfield.
The pace he showed against Manchester City was, really, more of the same, but the vision he showed to pick out Daniel Sturridge in the buildup to Jordan Henderson’s goal, the composure he demonstrated to score his own and the technique he displayed to curl in his offside winner were all straight out of the top drawer.
If he continues in this vein, he will be a pivotal player in Liverpool’s quest to challenge on all fronts this season.
A Young and Hungry Midfield
Sterling has an exciting platform for him to thrive off, given the encouraging signs his midfield colleagues have shown in their brief preseason campaign thus far.
Jordan Henderson continued his rise to prominence in Rodgers’ setup with a well-taken goal, and his increasing tendency of arriving inside the opposition box at the right time means that he may well get on the scoresheet more often this season.
At the moment, finishing is the only thing left really for Philippe Coutinho to improve on further. His all-round movement is superb, while his increased physicality and maturing pressing play is enabling his transition from No. 10 to No. 8 smoothly.
And at the heart of all this is arguably one of the Reds’ most exciting recent signings. Emre Can has shown remarkable leadership and maturity in the heart of the midfield since arriving from Bayer Leverkusen. He already has the full set; now it’s just about nurturing him to dominate the middle of the park in a Reds shirt.
Do Liverpool Finally Have Good Options at Center-Back?
Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren, Kolo Toure, Sebastian Coates...do Liverpool have a much stronger set of center-back options than they’re being given credit for?
Skrtel has seemingly stepped up to the plate this preseason with more commanding performances, while Coates has put in a few performances that will surely have given Brendan Rodgers food for thought ahead of the new season.
With Sakho back to his promising best in his second-half cameo, the arrival of Lovren—championed as a defensive leader by Rodgers, via the club's official website—and the continued presence of vice-captain Agger, perhaps it’s finally time the Reds looked at strengthening their other areas of defense.
Still Some Areas for Concern for Brendan Rodgers
The bad news is that those other areas of defense need quite a bit of work still. None of Rodgers’ full-back options have really made any lasting impression, and Jose Enrique’s positioning against City on Wednesday was spectacularly abhorrent.
Not that Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson did much to resurrect their Anfield careers either, and Jack Robinson, so often heralded as Liverpool’s next homegrown left-back talent, hasn’t shown enough to suggest he can usurp even Jon Flanagan’s place in the pecking order anytime soon.
Then there’s the sticky issue of the defensive midfield, whose current incumbents, besides the enterprising Emre Can, are the off-pace Lucas and the increasingly off-pace Steven Gerrard.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times—and a sad sight for all Liverpool fans—that their performance was markedly improved in the second half, and even more so with Gerrard off the pitch. His absence might deprive his team of on-field leadership and creative vision, but it’s also no coincidence that the entire Reds side look more cohesive going forward and defending as a unit without the captain.
With Gerrard’s international retirement, the case of Gerrard’s playing time this season will be something that Brendan Rodgers needs to manage carefully. Get it right, and the Reds will have a bright future while phasing out their captain. Get it wrong, and there could be huge ramifications on how the season turns out.
Cautious Optimism Ahead of the Season
While Manchester City were by no means at their full-strength best on Wednesday—Yaya Toure only came on in the second half, while the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta didn’t even play—Liverpool should still take heart from their overall performance.
Their second half was particularly encouraging, and Liverpool still have Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana to blood in. The lack of a true big-name “marquee” signing thus far has dampened Reds fans’ spirits this summer, but they will surely be pleased with their team’s overall playing style.
All of this bodes well ahead of the new season. There are still some kinks to be ironed out, but with a few signings—including a couple at full-back and perhaps a striker—Liverpool may yet make something out of this campaign.