AWAY games. They’re aways good, writes WAYNE SCHOLES. A bit of an adventure. Except for Stoke. Stoke never seems good. And it’s definitely not an adventure.
Pre-season tours are no different to a good away. Every place we go, the locals, for the most part at least, are welcoming and happy to have us there.
Melbourne two years ago was a mad week of 100,000 Liverpool fans mobbing a city that is used to being mobbed by 100,000 sports fans. It’s built to cater for it. Hotels, restaurants, the very city itself, all set up to cope with it.
Brisbane is different.
The people seem grateful that we are here. The city is covered in the familiar sight of the Liverbird, which just makes it feel like Liverpool (except without those annoying Everton flags hanging around near Anfield).
We’ve been here for about four days before the match and loved every minute – it’s felt like a city that is pleased to host us, loved having fans spending money here and it has been the perfect host. Not that Melbourne wasn’t — it just seems a little bit more personal in Brisbane, that’s all.
We’ve been staying in the same hotel as the team. That was interesting. Also resident was the South African rugby team. We’ve eaten with the South Africans, swam with them, chatted at length; generally really enjoyed hanging out with them.
Liverpool by contract have had security everywhere. “Excuse me, sir, but are you staying in this hotel?”
“No, I just thought I’d show up in me cozzy and see if the pool was open, fella.”
“So you are then?”
“Erm, yes, yes I am, and no I’m not taking a separate lift because Liverpool players are waiting.”
For anyone who says, ‘Well, football is bigger than rugby’ all I would say is that you clearly haven’t ever been to Australia.
Just two different ways of doing things I guess.
Not that when you came across a Liverpool player they weren’t friendly — they generally were — just different, that’s all. The legends, as always, are gentlemen: Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler, Didi Hamann, Craig Johnston, Luis Garcia — all great and full of mad stories I could listen to all day.
So the game. Mad night that. My 11 year old started off by telling me that Nathaniel Clyne would prove to be the best signing this season. On the balance of what is admittedly a pre-season tour, I’d say he’s probably right.
Clyne pushing up that right side made life easier for the midfield; his pace allowing him to match the drives forward while also being able to recover quickly to close the door in the event of things not going to plan. Impressive speed, great crossing and more than happy to run at people – and he’s still only 24. He looked supremely comfortable with the ball at his feet, his off-the-ball work rate is phenomenal and never stopped talking. I loved that he talked the whole time and I’ve never seen Simon Mignolet speak as much as when Clyne was yelling at him. It was a bit surreal to see Mignolet that involved frankly. But Clyne – I’ve every confidence in him after watching that.
The other stand out was James Milner. Can’t say I was overwhelmed with excitement when he signed – It was more of a, ‘He’ll do for nothing; where’s the risk?’
I feel a little daft now. He was fast, hungry and aggressive in the midfield; happy to shoot, not scared of a tough tackle and certainly not prepared to be bullied by anyone. It was ‘only a friendly’ but trust me, those Brisbane Roar lads were no pushover — they played hard and were not taking this as a mess about game. They were flying tackles like players do in the World Cup at times.
Milner wasn’t having any of that. I like a player who isn’t going to go to ground easily and who will stick up for himself. He is that. Like Clyne, he is a good communicator, too. He was chatting to the lads on the pitch all the time, directing traffic, giving a pat on the back and correcting the young players the whole night. Never stopped. Even at the final whistle he went across to Jordon Ibe and gave him some coaching on the last pass of the game — a friendly that some say no player cares about — and he made sure Ibe understood; they stood for a minute talking it through, Milner demonstrative with his hands to make sure Ibe understood. He’s only been here five minutes and he’s getting his hands dirty. Good.
Talking of Ibe, he impressed. The 19-year-old showed passion, grit and looked lively and determined. He desperately wanted to score and very nearly did. Thought he was magic. Great things to come from him? Don’t rule it out. And he’s doing everything within his power to make that happen.
I thought the same of most of the youngsters Rodgers put out. OK, there were some rookie mistakes but some great promise shown.
Liverpool were a little slow to get going but once they did I was impressed by the work between Jordan Henderson, Divock Origi, and Clyne. Danny Ings on the other hand looked a little off it. Maybe he needs more time to settle, which is not unreasonable.
So the Brisbane Roar goal. Frustrating, friendly match or not. They get a throw in, they send one guy running to the ball and three of ours follow, leaving a space I could back a lorry into. Hey presto, up pops Dimitri Petratos, who felt duty bound to use the mammoth amount of space that Liverpool afforded him to put the ball in the net.
Sahko looked good at times and very shaky at others and I felt happier when Kolo Toure was on. The Roar were a great challenge and were not going to give up, they played a well-organised game; high pressure with a willingness to attack, which made the game a proper match.
Lallana scored a cracker while Milner’s goal was the result of some fancy footwork that I genuinely wasn’t expecting to see from him.
It’s ‘only pre-season’ but Liverpool look better than they did in the tour last year and the year before. Sharper, a little more focused, and certainly quicker moving the ball around. Lucas looked great in a role with slightly less pressure but much more impact. Liverpool pressed more than last season, Joe Gomez is a lad without fear at 18 and he couldn’t care less who has the ball — he wants it, and he is comfortable with it. Brendan Rodgers later said he is not going on loan. And he is right to do so.
On balance, I’m hopeful.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo