Let's just get the standard "doesn't mean anything unless someone looks good, then we'll get really excited" proclamations out of the way---few conclusions can be made from any preseason match, and after the display today we'll have to hope that the Liverpool we see on August 13th has little in common with the one we saw today. Disjointed and lacking in all areas in the first, unable to string anything together despite flashes of promise in the second, this will surely be one that all involved from a Liverpool perspective will be happy to dismiss as more a product of the preseason being the preseason than actual problems in this Liverpool side.
As expected, there were places in the squad for three of the summer's new additions---Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing started on the bench, while Doni got the nod in goal behind a back line of Martin Kelly, Jamie Carragher, Daniel Ayala, and Jack Robinson. Christian Poulsen was the deepest of the three central midfielders, with Conor Coady a bit further forward behind Alberto Aquilani. That left Joe Cole and Maxi wide with David Ngog alone up front as Liverpool started in a 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 mix.
Ostensibly the numbers in midfield should have allowed Liverpool to command play, but what unfolded was a half filled with Hull dominance and a complete lack of anything resembling positive play from Liverpool. Poulsen and Coady were unable to provide any sort of steel and Aquilani became increasingly isolated trying to link play, with most forward movements coming via lofted through-balls to a lonely (and frequently offside) Ngog. Things weren't much better at the back, as Hull got two goals in just over ten minutes.
The first, while well struck (if a bit fortunate), was partially down to Conor Coady and Martin Kelly backing off, which left plenty of space for Robbie Brady to fling one past Doni into the far corner. The second was the pick of the day as Hull easily passed their way through the central part of the final third, leaving Robert Koren with acres of space at the top of the area to curl one in. Credit to Hull, but fantastically ugly from Liverpool.
We saw more of Liverpool's "first-teamers" to start the second half, including Downing and Henderson, with Andy Carroll up front and Dirk Kuyt opposite Downing on the flanks. Henderson was active throughout the forward areas with Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing deeper in midfield; they provided the cover for a back line of John Flanagan, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Danny Wilson, and Emiliano Insua.
And it all started much better, as Downing had a chance saved by Basso on his first touch, and Liverpool finally looked competent moving forward. Still far too many hoofs for my liking, but Downing's activity provided a spark that Liverpool had been missing for much of the first half.
So, of course, Hull got their third and it sent Liverpool off-kilter. Again down to a defensive lapse, Jay Simpson was played onside by Insua after Dele Adebola chested down past Danny Wilson, and Simpson poked past Brad Jones to give the hosts their third. Liverpool rebounded eventually, but the scoreline was too far gone to get anything other than some encouraging glimpses of potential.
Which is essentially what you're looking for in the preseason---signs that progress is possible regardless of the scoreline, and that all parties involved come away healthy and better prepared when the time comes to do it for real. It doesn't make the display or the result less frustrating; I'd be lying if I said that I didn't care at all about the scoreline, or that it didn't cause concerns about the as-yet unbolstered Liverpool back line. The absences of Daniel Agger and Raul Meireles, either for injury or something far more devious for the latter, are also concerning, as is the continued presence of Christian Poulsen and Joe Cole, both of whom are managing to look out of their depth far earlier than they did last season.
But preseason is a time for hope and positivity, and there's no reason to start the doom and gloom just yet. The squad will be strengthened by, at the very least, those returning from injury (Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Pepe Reina, Meireles? Agger?) and international duty (Luis Suarez, Lucas), and the lapses we've seen in defense will no doubt be addressed. Downing and Adam were both strong in their own way after coming on, and Henderson looks to be energetic and adaptable going forward.
Time and training will make everyone a little sharper, and there's no doubts that Kenny Dalglish and company will have the squad ready in three weeks' time. At least we hope so.