What Do We Want From Our Pre-Season Friendlies?
It was the Merseyside derby… in Thailand?
Watching Liverpool FC and the Thai National Team come out of the tunnel side-by-side was eerie: the hosts wore all-blue kits and Chang Beer is their sponsor. I had to double check the tv menu and make sure I was actually watching this morning’s pre-season friendly and not an FSC Premier League replay. The Thai team are even managed by a former Evertonian, Peter Reid. (And, I’d like to add: their home colors are actually yellow. The Blue is their away kit. Tell me Reid didn’t know what he was doing when he made that swap!) Would I be seeing goals from Dutsakorn Cahill and Yakubu Suksomkit? Would Peeratat Neville get booked for handball in the box? The only thing that brought me back to reality was the lack of blue or yellow in the crowd. The stadium was almost completely full of Liverpool jerseys. Anfield would never look so one-sided during a derby. This must be the right match. Thailand seemed to be doing everything they could to make the Reds feel at home, from the hearty cheering when Pepe and El Nino came on to the heavy rains in the second half.
In the first 80 min, though, the context of the match may have been more interesting than the football itself. Play was mostly dreary and unconvincing. Babel’s goal was satisfying, but I felt no need to jump out of my seat. But I have to admit: I’m so football starved I’ll watch anything right now. I’m so eager for mid-August, I’d watch Liverpool play a starting XI made up entirely of garden gnomes. I’m like a heroin addict at the methadone clinic. I’ll take what I can get.
But watching the 90 minutes of Liverpool in Bangkok, I realized I was enjoying myself, even if it was far from the best football I’d see all year. Which brings me to this question: what do we want from our pre-season friendlies?
Here are the things that are most valuable to me:
A look at the youngsters: I don’t get to watch reserves matches. I know who some of the kids are and some of them have poked their heads into the first team. But in a friendly it’s nice to see who gets a runout and what they can do. Nemeth, Pacheco, Plessis, Spearing and Kelly were all among those to get some valuable first team pitch time. I want to see more of Nemeth especially. But today he didn’t show too much. When he got the ball in a dangerous area he took to0 long on it. Kelly had some good moments. Spearing and Plessis have both looked better.
Some unlikely heroics: This goes along with getting to seeing the kids and other unlikely starters in action, but I was really hoping for a goal from Nemeth or Pacheco. I even would have been thrilled to see a Voronin goal. And I think I mean that. Or even a goal from one of the usual characters who doesn’t usually score. With Torres on the bench and Gerrard hanging out with his solicitor back in Liverpool, I’d be brilliant to see Lucas or Carra score (okay: it is always be brilliant to see Carra score. It’s like Halley’s Comet going by. How often will it come around again?) I would have loved to have seen Glen Johnson break his duck or at least create a beautiful assist. The Babel goal was decent enough and it somewhat fulfills this criteron: Ryan isn’t exactly going to break any scoring records so it’s something of an event to see him put one away.
Some sign of hope for the upcoming season: Not much of this until 80 minutes in. That’s when Torres came on and the crowd went wild. (Honestly, I’m convinced the entire stadium was cheering both ways. When Pepe Reina came on the noise from the crowd seemed an exact replay of the cheering for the lone Thai goal.) Torres was, as usual, a breath of fresh air and looked like he was going to retake the lead all by himself. Within seconds he was on the ball and charging toward goal. His attack was diffused, but his movement looked great and it made me truly excited for the new season. He’d go on to create more danger in the last ten minutes than we’d seen all match. He’s a joy to watch even when he’s not scoring.
A look at new players: This season for me this means Glen Johnson. Today wasn’t much of a runout. He came in the second half and played out of position (as left-back). He was mostly invisible. He had one good chance (one of those curlers that leave you wondering if it was a shot or a cross) and he showed some nice footwork. But it would have been nice to see him on the right, bearing down on defenders and launching something in for Torres.
So not the most fulfilling friendly ever, but friendlies are meant to be strange, yes? The ability to rotate so many players in and out inevitably turns it into something of a circus. With everyone all over the place, coming in, going out, how is the game supposed to get any true sense of flow? I only wish they’d let you put players back in. We could have used Insua and birthday boy Dirk Kuyt back in in the second half. Ah, but why dwell on it?
Like I said: I’m just that football starved. If eleven Thai players want to dress up like Everton and try to recreate the Merseyside derby some 6,000 miles away to help get me through the summer: I thank them for it. Perhaps when Liverpool visit Singapore on Sunday, the hosts will dress up like Manchester United… honestly, it might help.
So what do you want from your pre-season?