BOSTON, MA - JULY 25: Raheem Sterling #31 of Liverpool battles for position against Aleandro Rosi #2 of AS Roma during a pre-season tour friendly match on July 25, 2012 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The preseason's really over this time, and Liverpool now look to next Saturday's visit to the West Midlands and the start of a new Premier League campaign. For whatever reason this one felt particularly choppy, so we'll just give some random thoughts on a match that saw plenty of positives, not too many negatives, and the creation of a handful of questions that Liverpool will need to address.
Liverpool : Sterling 3', Lucas 29', Carroll 65'
Leverkusen: Sam 75'
--I was really surprised to see the starting eleven that Brendan Rodgers chose, with only four changes from the side that beat Gomel on Thursday night. The start for Lucas was particularly concerning given his recent return to match fitness, and I'd have guessed that Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard would get a rest as well. It turned out to be worry over nothing, but it was no what I had in mind.
--There wasn't even much time to settle in before Raheem Sterling got the opener, which was as good an example as any of what he can bring to the side. Poor defending, yes, but a great ball from Jose Enrique and both speed and quickness on display from Sterling to buy himself time and space. The finish was superb as well, and the reception he got from the home supporters throughout the entire move was as loud as it got all day. He might not be a week-in, week-out starter yet, but all signs point to a bench role for him moving into the new season.
--Stewart Downing has continued to look more confident, and all indications point to him having a place under Rodgers. That might not sit very well with most, present company included, as it's not entirely clear if he's going to experience a rebirth on the heels of a very poor season. But if he continues to improve and plays with the type of confidence we've seen the last few times out, that can only benefit Liverpool, and it'd be hard to begrudge anyone who makes Liverpool better.
--Steven Gerrard's continuation in an attacking midfield role was another positive on the day, as he lurked just off the forward line and again showed signs of good link-up with Luis Suarez. He was clearly holding back in terms of effort, but the freedom he's given further forward fits perfectly with both his strengths and weaknesses. Lucas' quality deeper in the midfield gives Rodgers the luxury to have Gerrard more advanced, and once again the Brazilian was excellent. And with only six on the bench someone was going to have to play a full 90, so that it was Jonjo Shelvey wasn't a huge shock, and I thought he did another good job even if he leaves plenty to be desired in the tackle. Still think he makes way for Joe Allen as soon as next week.
--Another match for Pepe Reina was needed, and he again showed signs of flourishing as a more active part of the system. The back line in front of him was shaky at times, overall I thought each of the back four were solid. Sebastian Coates had his standard lapse in judgment that nearly led to a goal, Jamie Carragher backed off and allowed space that did lead to a goal, and Martin Kelly, Enrique, and Jack Robinson all did about as expected given where they're at.
--The second half substitutes overall left a little to be desired, and while they were each passable in their own right, further underlined the need for depth across the board. A midfield collective of Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, and Jordan Henderson doesn't inspire much confidence, and while Andy Carroll got a goal and generally worked his ass off, I don't know if it did enough convincing for Rodgers to keep him around.
Overall, the best of the "preseason" performances, and a nice way to transition from the Gomel win to next weekend's season opener. There's always optimism ahead of the start of the season, whether or not it's based in reality. But two consecutive performances in which we see new ideas taking hold, players working for the cause, and with indications that improvements are on the way, the optimism ahead of Liverpool's new season doesn't seem completely unfounded.