TORONTO, CANADA - JULY 21: Dani Pacheco #12 of Liverpool controls the ball against Toronto FC during the World Football Challenge friendly match on July 21, 2012 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Raheem Sterling was impressive, Alberto Aquilani looked comfortable, and Lucas saw twenty minutes of action as he returned from injury in a match that will mostly go down as a chance to gain fitness ahead of the 2012-13 campaign. Less encouragingly Charlie Adam seemed resistant to the quick passing game Liverpool tried to implement in the first half while in the second Joe Cole appeared an even worse fit, but if in the end the goal was fitness and a chance to practice their possession game in a live setting then Brendan Rodgers will have mostly got what he was looking for from Saturday's one-one draw.
Liverpool 1 Morgan 69'
Toronto 1 Amarikwa 58'
The new Liverpool manager came into the day with a separate eleven for each half, giving most of the players available to him at this stage of the pre-season forty-five minutes to impress, and on paper at least the first half lineup appeared the less exciting of the two. In it, Andre Wisdom started at right back, something he did on occasion at the reserve level last season despite being a natural centre back, while Jamie Carragher babysat Stephen Sama in the middle and Jose Enrique manned the left flank.
There was also an unexpected start for 16-year-old starlet Jordan Ibe on the wing, and another in what has begun to seem an endless string pre-season returns for Alberto Aquilani in the middle, while with no first team strikers in sight Nathan Eccleston was given the chance to impress at centre forward. And it would be Eccleston who typified Liverpool's entire first half performance, with the prospect running hard and pressing high up the pitch in an effort to impress the manager but appearing decidedly sloppy on the ball at times and providing little legitimate goal threat.
At the back, too, "sloppy" was the not entirely unexpected theme, with Carragher and Sama at times looking an uncertain pairing while Wisdom seemed wholly uncomfortable moving forward with the ball from right back and seemed particularly afraid of playing the ball inside. Ahead of him on the wing, Ibe looked a promising prospect, but he also clearly showed his youth and experience as he ended up with his head down trying to beat the fullback almost every time he got the ball. It lead to an especially ineffective right flank for Liverpool, with Wisdom only either playing the ball thirty yards back to Carragher or lofting it over the top for Ibe to latch on to and inevitably lose.
Still, for all their issues, the young centre back played out of position and promising attacker were never going to be in contention to make the first team this year, and so all that really matters for them in the end is that they were given a bit of playing time in a moderately competitive setting. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool looked stronger on the left, with Enrique and Pacheco linking well though neither was able to provide much of a goal threat and any moves inevitably led to naught. In the end it meant that despite managing 75% possession in the first half, the closest Liverpool came to a goal—or even a shot—was a 33rd minute handball shout after an Enrique right-footer heading for the stands rocketed off a Toronto defender's arm.
Despite the many issues, though, Liverpool did hold onto the ball well, and while Alberto Aquilani looked half asleep at times he still outclassed every other midfielder on the pitch with a flawless first touch and exceptional one- and two-touch passing, while beside him Jay Spearing was alert to the threat on the handful of occasions Toronto did gain possession and sprinkled in some well weighted long-balls that on another day might have led to something in attack.
The second half lineup, though, was clearly where the excitement was for Liverpool fans, with a more assured backline of Martin Skrtel and Danny Wilson bookended by John Flanagan and Jack Robinson, while ahead of them in midfield there was little potential defensive cover in an attacking trio comprised of Krisztian Adorjan, Jonjo Shelvey, and Suso. Shelvey was nominally the holding player, but none did all that much holding, and it was that at the root of Toronto going up after 58 minutes.
That goal came after Liverpool's most convincing stretch, with Suso and Sterling in particular linking up dangerously on the left. With the interplay between those two and also between Suso and Krisztian Adorjan in midfield, it was clear the added familiarity that came from seasons spent playing together at the reserve and youth levels was playing a role for a number of Liverpool's promising youngsters, and those pockets of familiarity in turn led to the entire side appearing far more cohesive than they had in the first half.
In the end, though, Liverpool's overwhelming control led to them pushing deeper and deeper into Toronto's end, and when Shelvey was slow to react to the break when one finally came, Liverpool looked in real danger. It was perhaps Toronto's first decent chance of the game, and with Flanagan failing to mark the streaking Quincy Amarikwa on the right and Peter Gulacsi parrying the initial shot straight out towards the penalty spot as the striker arrived there, suddenly Liverpool found themselves down despite having dominated the run of play.
It was nearly a second for Toronto when Joe Cole, who in a reminder of his last spell at the club showed a tendency to hold onto the ball for far too long, turned the ball over minutes later. Liverpool held, though, and began to find their feet again. The near constant pressure in the Toronto end that came as a result finally led to a goal just over ten minutes later thanks to a brilliant individual effort by Raheem Stering, who used pace to beat the first man and strength to hold off a second before firing a low shot across goal that beat the keeper but looked to not quite have enough power to find the goal.
However, Adam Morgan's poacher instincts meant the young striker was on hand to thump the slowly rolling ball into the open net. Minutes later, a 73rd minute appearance for Lucas—coming on for Adorjan—gave Liverpool fans another positive to remember from the day, though with a tackle for his first touch his cameo also served as further reminder of how much Liverpool missed him while he was gone and of how little depth they still have at his position heading into a season that could see the club play sixty games. For now, though, all that really matters is that everyone got a bit of time to work on their fitness, even if beyond that there are the countless reasons for hope and a few lingering concerns to fret over in the coming days.