OVER 25,000 packed in to Anfield to honour Liverpool Legend Sami Hyypia, as his Bayer Leverkusen side fell to a 3-1 defeat in the Reds’ final pre-season game before Brendan Rodgers’ side kick off their Premier League campaign.
Notwithstanding the absence of centre half pairing Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, Rodgers named a strong side including Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Lucas Leiva and Pepe Reina; it also gave Anfield the chance to have another glimpse at Raheem Sterling, who started the match on the left hand side of a front three.
The youngster took no time whatsoever to make his mark on the game, showing great strength to muscle Daniel Schwaab off the ball and skipping inside the Leverkusen full-back before curling a delightful effort into the far corner of the Anfield Road net with only three minutes on the clock.
Leverkusen responded immediately and came close to finding an equaliser two minutes later from a set piece, Michael Kadlec’s cross finding an unmarked Stefan Kiessling who could only direct his header straight into the arms of Pepe Reina.
As the first half progressed, Anfield was afforded a glimpse of what might be to come from Liverpool this season: setting up in a tight 4-3-3, both Sterling, and the ever-improving Stewart Downing, deployed on the right of a central Luis Suarez, worked hard to support full-backs Martin Kelly and Jose Enrique.
The Reds doubled their lead on the half hour mark via a clever, if rather fortunate, set-piece. Downing, looking for all the world like he was going to shoot, having been teed up by captain Steven Gerrard, slid the ball to an unmarked Suarez.
The Uruguayan, normally so adept in tight situations, stumbled, with the ball falling fortunately to Lucas Leiva for the simplest of tap-ins.
The Germans again came close to pulling a goal back on the stroke of half-time, Kiessling spurning another chance, firing over from inside the area after some neat link up play with Daniel Schwaab.
Rodgers shuffled his pack at half-time, making five out of a possible six substitutions, introducing Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Jack Robinson, Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam for Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Jose Enrique, Lucas and Stewart Downing, leaving only keeper Brad Jones on the bench.
The change in personnel did little to disturb either Liverpool’s fluidity or tenacity, the sight of Andy Carroll in particular and maybe with a point to prove, defending his own corner flag and successfully winning a throw, was encouraging.
Indeed it was Carroll who was the instigator of an impressive early second half foray that deserved a goal, his perfectly weighted ball releasing the impish Sterling, who in turn found Charlie Adam, but the Scottish international’s intended pass to Henderson was a touch heavy as the ball trickled harmlessly into the arms of Bernd Leno in the Leverkusen goal.
Suddenly at the heart of everything, it was then Carroll’s chance to extend Liverpool’s lead, heading a Shelvey cross narrowly wide, but the big Geordie got his just rewards moments later finishing off a passage of play that would have the tiki-taka purists purring.
Having patiently kept Leverkusen at arms length following a spell of possession, Liverpool sensed an opportunity to attack; an impressive exchange of quick passes between Martin Kelly, Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing created a pocket of space for Charlie Adam, the Scot showing great awareness to step over the ball for Carroll to take a touch before firing low into the Kop end from 22 yards for Liverpool’s third of the afternoon.
The visitors managed to grab a goal back 15 minutes from time, Leverkusen substitute Sidney Sam rifling past Pepe Reina from distance after skipping past Jamie Carragher.
Despite the late setback it was an good run-out for the Reds who finished the game strongly and can take heart from an energetic, encouraging performance.