The team is taking shape.
Rodgers clearly has a fair idea about most of the line up he will send out against Stoke and he’s giving them as many minutes as possible in order to get them ready. That’s good to see; it shows lessons have been learned from previous years.
Mignolet, Skrtel, Clyne (excellent against Adelaide), Milner (two goals already) and Henderson are all nailed on starters and I’d say there’s every chance Lallana will be too based on his impressive form and the fact that Coutinho and (especially) Firmino are late coming back and may not be fully up to speed in time.
All of them are getting plenty of minutes now which can only be a good thing, unless of course you’re one of the other players in the squad looking for a chance to impress. Which leads me to…
There needs to be more pre-season games
A strange thing to say perhaps, but it’s just dawned on me today that I don’t think there enough games given the size of squads these days. We’ve got a 30 man squad on this tour. THIRTY!! Normally that leads to managers trying to give everyone a game which basically makes the whole thing fairly pointless in terms of preparation for the opening game, but as stated above that isn’t happening this year.
While Rodgers is correctly concentrating on building his ‘new’ team and getting them battle ready as quickly as possible, there are a number of talented players not getting enough (or in some cases, any) minutes. I’m sure the training sessions are proving beneficial, but it’s a pity that the likes of Markovic, Teixeira (brilliant in the 45 minutes he did get in Thailand), Ojo, Wilson and others will have hardly had any game time this pre-season.
Something that needs looking at in future maybe? Either more games on the tours or take a smaller squad and have more domestic friendlies for those not travelling.
It’s not about fitness anymore
Pre-season results mean next to nothing, but performances are becoming increasingly relevant I’d say. Back in the day players would come back from their summer holidays carrying excess timber and generally being pretty unfit. Pre-season was about getting their fitness back and often even our great sides would get their arses handed to them by some Scandinavian nobodies.
No-one cared because the games were never televised and everyone knew it was just about the lads running off their ale guts in time for August. Nowadays players never lose that fitness so you can therefore read more into performances. It’s not about getting fit anymore, they’re already fit, it’s about proving you should be in the team.
What we’ve seen so far has been encouraging. The standard of opposition hasn’t been great and that obviously needs to be taken into account, but we’ve had a nice shape to the team and have been difficult to play against. Too often last year that wasn’t the case.
The work rate has been excellent (especially considering it’s only pre-season and teams are usually only playing at half pace at this point) and a lot of it stems from the midfield pairing of Henderson and Milner pushing high up the pitch and harrying the opposition.
Rodgers obviously wants them playing together as much as possible now because they will be hugely important for us this season. I’d make Milner vice captain right now as he’s clearly the best candidate.
We still haven’t seen the A-Team
We haven’t been great in the final third yet and the most encouraging aspects of the performances have been in other areas, but it’s worth keeping in mind that so far we’ve been playing without what most people would recognise as our first choice front three.
Coutinho and Firmino are due back in training on Wednesday and Benteke is expected to join them providing all goes well with his medical. In their absence we’ve been playing with our second and occasionally third choice options, so all in all we’ve done ok.
There’s still places up for grabs
Who partners Skrtel? That looks to be a toss up at the moment with Lovren and Sakho getting relatively equal amounts of playing time. Left back is wide open too, Moreno made his first appearance of the pre-season in this game but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Joe Gomez started the season based on what he’s shown so far.
The third midfield spot looks to be between Allen and Lucas but Emre Can’s return to training with give Rodgers another option. My money would be on Allen getting the nod, and he was excellent against Adelaide. Assuming Coutinho and Benteke come straight in then that will leave Firmino, Lallana and Ibe fighting it out for the third spot.
Lallana and Ibe have both looked sharp and will be pushing hard for places against Stoke as Firmino may have cost a lot of money but right now he’s a completely unknown quantity. The next couple of games will go a long way towards deciding who wins that battle, but if the season started now Lallana would surely get the nod.
Benteke doesn’t look to have too much to worry about from Origi or Ings just yet though. Both have done ok and it’s pleasing that they’re both already off the mark, but neither will keep Benteke out the team. The two Brazilians may have a fight on their hands though at least, which can only be a good thing.