So much for the romantic return to Istanbul. A questionable starting eleven and even worse first-half performance, woeful defending, and non-existant attack conspired to make for one of the most insufferable forty-five minutes of Liverpool football I've witnessed. The curious selection and impotent display were worrying, and while it got better as the personnel and formation righted themselves a bit in the second half, we're still left with another ineffective display and more time to wait for something that actually means something.
You'd have been wildly optimistic to be enthusiastic for the match after seeing the aforementioned starting eleven---depending on how you count, at least four fullbacks had a place in the lineup, with Phillipp Degen and Emiliano Insua pushing forward to flank Joe Cole in the midfield, John Flanagan and Jack Robinson at right and left back respectively, and Martin Kelly partnering Sotirios Kyrgiakos in central defense. That left Andy Carroll alone up front, Cole just behind him, and Christian Poulsen and Jonjo Shelvey in more reserved midfield roles. And poor, poor Doni on an island in goal, damned from nearly the opening whistle.
Milan Baros' first-half brace very nearly could have been a hat-trick had he converted his chance inside a minute; typically lax defending through the midfield and at the back led to the former Liverpool man getting time and space on the left side, and had he not pulled it past the post, the hosts would have had a very early lead. They wouldn't have to wait much longer, though, as Baros finished off a fine move by volleying home Thomas Ujfalusi's well-placed cross.
What unfolded was nigh-on total Galatasaray dominance; Liverpool were clearly out of sorts and couldn't link any sort of meaningful possession together. Andy Carroll was isolated and anonymous, with only a poorly-struck effort from distance and a mis-controlled ball over the top from Poulsen to speak of for involvement. No fault of his own, and it had to be a supremely disappointing run-out.
The pre-determined water break gave the visitors a brief but welcomed respite, and less than ten minutes later they had their best chance of the half. Kyrgiakos headed back across the box from a free kick, which found an unmarked Martin Kelly in front of goal. As with everything else in the first half, his effort went terribly wrong, and was whistled offside to boot.
Within three minutes Baros had his second, this time from a corner in which the striker beat Poulsen to the back post all ends up. His firm header left Doni with no chance, and once again Liverpool's back line made a complete hash of it. Liverpool saw out the half with no further damage but, with a depleted bench, there wasn't any promise of wholesale changes to come.
As it turned out, the few changes made at the half (Dirk Kuyt and Alberto Aquilani for Phillipp Degen and Jack Robinson) markedly improved the visitors' performance---in the opening minutes Joe Cole worked himself free and had an effort saved only to be whistled offside, and Carroll headed tamely on goal from a Cole corner minutes later.
The move of the match for Liverpool came on 64 minutes, when Cole switched play to the right for Kuyt, who skipped past a defender and crossed sharply for the onrushing Aquilani. The Italian's low effort arrowed straight off Ceylan and away from danger, and Liverpool had their best chance of the match go begging.
Late appearances for Conor Coady and Andre Wisdom came just before Johan Elmander capped off the match with a sweetly-struck volley for the host's third, and while the second half performance was far more encouraging than anything we've much of what we've seen in the last 180 or so minutes of preseason football, it was another 0-3 result and another chance to try to cherry-pick the positives from a largely negative performance.
I'm stuck firmly in some sort of preseason purgatory---I know the matches and results don't matter much, and that it's all about fitness and unity and whatever, but I'm also not particularly fond of watching Liverpool get embarrassed for the sake of fitness or putting up players in the shop window. We typically talk about how there's few conclusions to draw from these matches, and while there's a debate to be had about the correlation of results now to the actual season (excellently laid out by nate earlier in the week), there's no arguing that Liverpool have some bad, bad footballers playing some bad, bad football right now.
You can't imagine anybody's improved their stock if we are shop-windowing; Poulsen again displayed a poor first touch and terrifically bad defensive positioning (which doesn't work so well for a defensive midfielder), Degen was...Degen, and Joe Cole, even with a few flashes of competence, continued to show the selfishness and sloppiness that Liverpool supporters have come to loathe. It wasn't any better at the back, as Sotirios Kyrgiakos looked lost and Martin Kelly struggled in a new(ish) role alongside him. Defensive lapses were again to blame for all three goals, something that, regardless of the time of year, is inexcusable.
And yet I'm not that fired up, as it's still all tempered by the knowledge that there's got to be something much better on the horizon. Almost half the squad missed out on today's match, nearly all of them starters, and you've got to believe that the ineffectual performances over the last two matches aren't lost on those in charge. Things need to be cleaned up relatively quickly---from the personnel at the club to the football they're playing, we can hope for change in the next two weeks. And as disappointing as the past two displays have been (or, depending on your opinion of the preseason, haven't been), there's still plenty of reason for optimism in the new season.
Monday's been promised as the start of those changes, with plenty of the missing faces from today (Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing among them) expected to return. And regardless of the result, you can probably expect to feel ambivalence about how things play out. Unless Liverpool score five and keep a clean sheet---then we can safely say that the season's started for real.