There have been a number of friendlies over the course of the past two weeks, as teams from England and beyond look to prepare for the start of the league campaign. The difference with most of those matches is that they rarely involve two league rivals — aside from Saturday’s French Super Cup.
But in Baltimore this weekend, two Premier League teams met at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. Liverpool F.C. and Tottenham Hotspur F.C. took to the sod pitch at the Inner Harbor park, a temporary field put down to cover the artificial surface more suited to 21 stone linemen flopping around in the sloppy winter weather. An additional bit of interest was that both clubs have new managers leading the way, with Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas in charge of their respective clubs.
As my fellow pundit Morgan Green and I strolled around the stadium prematch, the atmosphere outside was beautiful. Fans from both teams were congregating in the parking lots and concourses of the arena, preparing to see their beloved sides march out and give their all on another sweltering day in the mid-Atlantic region.
Both teams started lineups with a solid mix of youth and veterans. The one similarity was that both the Reds and Spurs lined up young center forwards – Liverpool with Adam Morgan and Spurs with 19-year-old Harry Kane. Notable for Liverpool was that the players who needed a break after the Euros were on the bench – primarily Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll (currently rumored to be on the radar of West Ham United). Tottenham started Aaron Lennon, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Gareth Bale just behind Kane. New signing Jan Vertonghen was on the bench to start, but spelled William Gallas late in the second half.
While the match did not produce a goal, both managers after the match indicated that they were content with the effort from their squads. There were several moments that stick out, most of all being a Charlie Adam challenge on Gareth Bale that left the Welsh left winger hobbled. Villas-Boas indicated after the match that he was unhappy with the challenge, especially given the history between the two players.
From the attacking side, the best chance came for Spurs by far. In the 42nd minute, Bale ran up the left side and swung a ball in for the young Kane. The ball just went over his head, but Lennon thrust himself forward and kicked the ball strong and hard. Unfortunately for Spurs, it hit the post squarely. Sigurdsson also had an opportunity to get a goal off a headed cross, but the ball was easily grabbed by keeper Brad Jones.
Liverpool did have their moments, but while they had plenty of possession, their opportunities rarely materialized. Of course they are missing a key player in Luis Suarez, who is trying to help Uruguay to an Olympic title. They also have a midweek Europa League fixture Thursday against Gomel in Belarus. The best chance came from a quirky rush from Martin Skrtel from out of the back. He moved through the Tottenham midfield and took a curling shot from 20 yards, but Brad Friedel was able to grab it. A late cross to substitute Andy Carroll was just too far for him.
The match may have been a scoreless draw, but it was clear that the 42,723 fans who came to Baltimore to see their favorite EPL team had a great time. As the Premier League season nears, we look forward to seeing the result of the work put in on the American excursions.