STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - JULY 18: Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas Boas talks to David Bentley during the Pre Season Friendly match between Stevenage and Tottenham Hotspur at The Lamex Stadium on July 18, 2012 in Stevenage, England. (Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images)
Liverpool finish their North American tour tomorrow in Baltimore, where they'll face Andre Villas-Boas' Spurs at M&T Bank Stadium. It's a farewell for Brendan Rodgers' squad after having spent most of the last two weeks in Boston, but Tottenham--who drew 1-1 with LA Galaxy on Tuesday--will be hanging around a bit longer, with a date set with New York Red Bulls next Tuesday before they head back to Europe to round off their preseason.
It's hard to judge Liverpool at the current moment, and tomorrow won't provide any definitive conclusions about where they're headed, but we'll at least get a look at some of the players who've just joined the squad this week. Their involvement will likely be minimal, as Rodgers noted, and will mostly be in preparation for the Europa League qualifier against FC Gomel next Thursday.
That sort of signals the end of the preseason, but not really, given that there's a friendly at Anfield against Sami Hyypia's Bayer Leverkusen after both legs of the Gomel tie. By that point it'd be nice to have a little bit of clarity about where the squad stands--we're probably still going to get a mix of youth and experience against Gomel, and if we're being optimistic, there'll be one or two new faces to blend into a squad that's desperately in need of additions to endure a long season.
Spurs have been the more active of the two sides, with a handful of players making their exit--including the unfortunate retirement of Ledley King--and a couple of expected first-teamers arriving in Jan Vertonghen and Gylffi Sigurdsson. New manager Andre Villas-Boas will also have to cope with the ongoing Luka Modric saga, however, as the Croatian is still apparently trying to force a move to Real Madrid.
But so far it seems like they've managed to improve on a squad that was very good for much of last season in spite of the departures, and, at least to start the season, they'll be a team that Liverpool will be chasing. Vertonghen and Sigurdsson will surely strengthen Villas-Boas' side, and there's enough of a core around from the past few seasons that they'll be in the mix for the top four as the Premier League season moves along.
As for Liverpool:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Shelvey Aquilani Henderson
Pacheco Borini Sterling
There's going to be at least a few new faces to the preseason action tomorrow, which still won't include Luis Suarez, Sebastian Coates, and Craig Bellamy, all of whom took part in Olympic action on Thursday. Bellamy scored for Great Britain as they managed to disappoint against Senegal, and Suarez and Coates each played a full 90 for Uruguay as they came from a goal down to beat the United Arab Emirates. But anyway, not playing for a long while.
Throwing all of the late arrivals in at once probably isn't likely, but they should all play a part along the way to at least have some competitive action. Across the back I'm hopeful that Brendan Rodgers starts with the pairing of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, who played with one another for a few minutes at the start of the second half on Wednesday. Glen Johnson could see a decent chunk of time as well, and on the left there's a need for Jose Enrique to pick things up dramatically. He's looked as poor this preseason as he did in the latter part of last season, but with no ready-made backups available other than Jack Robinson, he needs to find some sort of form soon.
In the midfield there's suddenly a glut of options, most notably Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. I think they'll both feature at some point, but I'll guess Henderson in the first half with Jonjo Shelvey and Alberto Aquilani, and Gerrard to come on at the half. It's no secret that Shelvey's been one of Liverpool's best players through their first two, and if his form continues into next week he should find himself on the pitch for most of the Europa League opener. Similar stuff for Aquilani if he's going to stick around, and if you plug Henderson or Gerrard in with them, you've got a great set of options down the road. Only two spots eventually, however, with Lucas an automatic starter once he's fully fit.
Fabio Borini will hopefully get some time tomorrow in Liverpool's weakest area, as I'm not sure Andy Carroll plays much, and there were distinct struggles for both Nathan Eccleston and Adam Morgan at Fenway against Roma. Borini should make Liverpool's attack more effective and fluid, but it might be too big of an ask for that to all happen at once tomorrow. If he gets 45 minutes and causes problems I'll be happy, and it'll be a chance for everyone to get familiar with a player that will probably be a large part of Rodgers' approach. I'd like to see the squad's other two preseason standouts play with Borini, as both Dani Pacheco and Raheem Sterling have earned an extended look.
Tomorrow's an early kickoff--it's set for 6:00PM BST/1:00PM EST, with coverage on ESPNUK in England and ESPN2/ESPN3.com in the US. Neither of us are going to be able to make it down to Baltimore for the match, but if you're going to be around and want to run a FanShot/FanPost from the area, please feel free. Hopefully it'll be a great experience for those of you who are able to make it. For those who can't, we'll have the matchday thread up a few hours before kickoff with team sheets and anything else worth discussing.
Hope you all have a nice end to the week, and we'll see you back here later on.