It’s been a while since we hosted an entertaining pre-season friendly at the KC Stadium. Of late we’ve witnessed several tedious encounters with clubs abroad (or Scotland). Today’s encounter with Liverpool certainly whet the appetite though with 18,000 tickets sold by Thursday and an eventual attendance of 20,924, a very respectable number for pre-season. They were rewarded with an excellent Tigers performance against a Liverpool squad missing several star names in Gerrard, Suarez, Reina, Lucas and Skrtel but still containing over a hundred million pounds worth of talent.
City lined up: Gulacsi; Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, McShane; Koren, Brady, Evans, Cairney; Fryatt, McLean.
The visitors dominated possession early but City grew into the game and started to rack up a few chances. Aaron McLean fired a shot over the bar with his left foot and Robbie Brady got in behind but shot weakly and Doni saved comfortably. Chester and McShane had excellent games and despite N’Gog’s pace and impressive movement, they kept him under wraps. The breakthrough for City came on 21 minutes. Brady attacked from deep, Dudgeon made a terrific overlapping run but Brady ignored him, cut inside and hit a right foot shot that deflected past Doni. Brady had another impressive half for City, his pace and ball control is good, he’s not afraid to shoot and he gets into good crossing positions. He showed great awareness of his mates in this game and played some great passes across the field to open the game up. He was ably assisted by Joe Dudgeon who joined in at every opportunity and went beyond Brady. He looks fit and athletic and wasn’t found wanting defensively.
Liverpool threatened to hit back. Aquilani found N’Gog who’s curling effort was well saved by Gulacsi. Joe Cole hammered the rebound into row ZZZ of the South Stand. What on earth has happened to Joe Cole? I don’t just mean the bald patch either. James Chester produced two superb block tackles launching a Tigers break and a set piece opportunity. Robert Koren’s excellent delivery was headed over by Aaron McLean. He might have done better. Not long after, it was 2-0. City moved the ball around like Liverpool of old, Rosenior, Koren, Cairney and Evans involved before McShane stepped out of defence and found Fryatt, who laid off to Koren. He played a one-two with McLean and hit a left footed shot beyond the outstretched right hand of Doni. It was a wonderful goal, friendly or not.
City were in complete control by this point. Tom Cairney was having the time of his life in midfield, producing another good performance, and with Evans, Koren and Brady in the midfield, Fryatt dropping off and the back four showing no interest in hitting the ball long, we kept the ball incredibly well. The only scare before half time came as N’Gog latched onto a ball over the top and outpaced McShane (unsurprisingly). Macca didn’t give up the chase though and on the very edge of the area, he slid in and took the ball off N’Gog’s toe. They argued he took the man first and it must have been close. The ref indicated it was a great challenge.
Both teams changed heavily at half time. Liverpool replaced all 11 players with star turns Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam amongst the replacements. City made 8 changes and lined up: Basso; East, Kilbane, Chester, McShane; Devitt, Dudgeon, Harper, McKenna; Adebola, Simpson.
Liverpool’s threat increased, as expected, with all the changes and Downing forced a super save from Basso early on. The Brazilian did well to get down to his left and turn the ball around the post. City didn’t settle and the replacement full backs went long with their passing which meant if Adebola didn’t win the ball, we coughed up possession over and over. Adebola was assaulted twice by Kyrgiakos but received no sympathy from the referee. With Flanagan’s attempt to literally cut Joe Dudgeon in half, Liverpool looked up for the battle in the second half. So they weren’t best pleased when City went 3-0 up. It came from the first decent passing move of the half. We worked the ball out of defence and used Harper and McKenna to shift the ball to the left wing, Dudgeon couldn’t get the ball in but Kilbane did, Adebola chested the ball through to Simpson who looked offside but the flag stayed down and he slid it past the replacement ‘keeper Jones. It showed Adebola’s quality and his ability to win headers and hold the ball up was in evidence elsewhere. Some of his play outside the box was clumsy and he did appear to pass the ball to the ref at one point. Late on he was played in over the top but had a long way to go to goal and never got anywhere near it. Pace isn’t on his list of strong points.
We spent a lot of the remaining time defending. Liverpool worked good positions but City’s disciplined defensive line and stubborn defending of the penalty area denied them goal scoring opportunities. James Chester was magnificent and handled Andy Carroll easily. Carroll was dangerous when he pulled off to the back post to head back across goal though; this led to Liverpool’s best chance of the game. Very late on Carroll headed back and Kuyt met the ball with his right foot but was denied by a good save from Basso. Dudgeon was replaced in the half by Barmby and with ten to play, Bradley came on for McShane. McShane had a very good game and his spirit was typified by one second half incident. Henderson chased a ball over the top, McShane trailed in his wake but as the ball bounced up, McShane launched himself over Henderson and headed the ball back to Basso. He was injured doing it but didn’t care.
Basso made good saves but looked iffy when kicking backpasses again. McKenna tackled well and looked very comfortable moving with the ball in midfield, very composed and showed good strength. His passing was mixed though. McKenna and Harper isn’t a midfield combo you’d use in a 4-4-2, I wouldn’t have thought. In the modern 4-2-3-1, they’d be fine but are too similar in this situation.
From what I’ve seen so far, I’d think several players will have etched themselves into NP’s plans. Gulacsi, Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, Hobbs, Brady, Koren and Fryatt look certain starters. The rest may depend on the system but there are 4 good players competing for a couple of midfield places and the choice of Fryatt’s partner is anyone’s guess. Aaron McLean didn’t do his chances any harm today. I think we’ve got a much better squad than last season. There’s more competition, more flexibility, more pace and a better attitude all round.