LEVERKUSEN, GERMANY - JUNE 25: Head coach Sami Hyypiae smiles during the training session of Bayer Leverkusen at Ulrich Haberland Stadium on June 25, 2012 in Leverkusen, Germany. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
It's hard to go from matches that mean something back to ones that don't, but there are at least a few elements of tomorrow's exhibition between Liverpool and Bayer Leverkusen worth looking forward to, including the return of one of the club's most accomplished and well-loved defenders of the Premier League era.
The preview part of this one's going to be a fair bit more brief than usual given that we mostly know what to expect tomorrow--fringe starters combined with youngsters for most, if not all, of the match, and a chance to see just how well Brendan Rodgers' style has worked its way down through the ranks. There's no escaping that tomorrow's a walkthrough, and while we likely won't come away with the type of sentiment that Thursday provided, it's football, and it bridges the gap to next Saturday's opener.
That it comes against Sami Hyypia's Bayer Leverkusen side makes it a bit more interesting, as it presents the first opportunity to welcome the former Liverpool defender in any sort of official capacity. Most looked forward to a coaching return on Merseyside for the Finn, and that might still happen, but for now the welcome is for an opposition manager who quickly transitioned from player to interim coach to manager in a fairly short period of time.
Most notable in terms of personnel for Hyypia is that he might have to contend with the loss of two of his marquee players for the coming season--both Andre Schurrle and Lars Bender have been linked with moves away, with the former a Chelsea target and the latter the focus of attention from Bayern Munich. They're up and running next weekend in domestic cup competition, league play starts a week later in Frankfurt, and, by virtue of their fifth place finish last season they'll enter the Europa League at the group stage.
As for Liverpool:
Kelly Carragher Coates Robinson
Henderson Spearing Adam
Eccleston Carroll Sterling
There's ready-made stand-ins for Thursday's participants throughout the squad, albeit ones that aren't necessarily capable replacements. The back line and Peter Gulacsi are about as good as it gets, with a goalkeeper who's proven to be more comfortable in possession than Brad Jones and a back four that, save for Jack Robinson, have all seen fairly significant minutes in the first team over the past year--and Robinson did see action a few years ago and still seems to have a future at Liverpool, particularly if there's no backup for Jose Enrique on the way.
Further forward there's a significant drop-off, though, with Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll the only players who seem to have a chance of making a significant contribution. That's either a product of age or skill for the rest--both Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing are a ways off the quality we saw on Thursday (although Adam was serviceable as a late substitute), and even including Andy Carroll in the conversation it'd be surprising to see any of the front three having a sustained impact on Liverpool this season. So while it might be good for youth, and hopefully the fringe players, to get a run out, it would be foolish to bank on any of the front six playing a large role in Brendan Rodgers' plans this season.
The other, more appealing aspect of tomorrow's match is Hyypia's return, and it's an occasion that can be roundly celebrated. This summer aside, recent departures have left Liverpool supporters with a sour taste in their mouths, so the chance to welcome back one of the club's greatest servants in recent memory is plenty welcome. He's everything you'd have hoped for in a Liverpool player--he won every possible honor other than a Premier League trophy, provided class both on and off the pitch, and, had the club not already defined a Liverpool Way, he set a tone to aspire to for both present and future Liverpool players.
There are very few who would have been opposed to his career continuing at Liverpool a while longer, and most remain hopeful that there's some way he'll return in the future. An ambassadorial role would seem a step back for a man that quickly ascended into the managerial ranks, though, so for now we'll just have to make do with Sunday's friendly and one more chance to see a player and man we can feel proud to have supported—while hoping that any future trips to Anfield are more successful for Liverpool than his most recent.
For now, we can just get a little weepy.
**Earlier version of this post didn't include viewing options or kickoff time--the match will start at 3:00PM BST/10:00AM EST, and while I couldn't find any listings in the UK, I know that Fox Soccer Channel is carrying coverage in the US. We'll have the matchday thread as usual, and please let us know if there's a way to watch that we don't have included.**