Sami's Return and Raheem's Brilliance Combined to Ensure That Liverpool's Pre-Season Finished On A High
The sun shone over Anfield this afternoon as Liverpool welcomed back one of its favourite sons. That son was of course Sami Hyppia, who having left three years ago, was back in his new role as Manager of Bayer Leverkuson. During his time at the club, Sami become a firm favourite with the Anfield faithful and many thousands of hearts were broken on the day he left. That particular day, the then manager Rafa Benitez decided to leave Sami on the bench for the majority of the game - why he did this, I guess is one of those questions that will be answered in the fullness of time. He did though come on during the last quarter of the game and the celebrations afterwards as the goodbyes were said are amongst those memories that will never fade.
Today was the day when, many of the supporters present on that day could once again say "Thanks Sami" and they did in the only way that they know how. Sami was greeted with a standing ovation at the beginning and end of the game along with his name being resonated regularly from the stands.
The game itself was classed as a friendly but Brendan had decided to field a very strong team which included the 17 year old Raheem Sterling. Now Raheem as we all know is one of the shining lights that have come out of the academy and has been desperate to cement his place in the first team. He did extremely well during the tour of the United States but today was given the opportunity to prove to Brendan that he is ready for the first team, and that any possible plans to send him out on loan are ill judged.
He did this of course when the match was barely three minutes old. Having picked up a wonderful ball from Jose Enrique, he tore through the Bayer Leverkuson defence and sent a wonderful volley into the back of the net. Liverpool were now 1-0 up and the noise that rang around Anfield was a pleasure to hear
Whether Raheem's early goal sent the Bayer players into shock or not, I don't know but Liverpool quickly set the new pass and move style of play into motion and it was once again a pleasure to watch. There were very few loose balls given away, which indicated that Brendan had been working on possession play during the pre-season.
Play continued and with Bayer Leverkuson becoming more settled on the pitch, it soon become evident that perhaps it would take a small mistake to bring them back into the game. The first of those mistakes came when Pepe hesitated but thankfully the ball landed in his arm
Bayer kept pressing and Kiessling had several chances to bring the score line level but the first went wide and the second went over the crossbar. Still they pressed but it was Liverpool who would strike once again. Having picked up a Bayer Leverkuson corner, Stewart Downing sent the ball towards Luis Suarez, which was consequently pulled down. The resulting free kick was sent by Stewart Downing towards Luis who scuffed his shot and Kadlec having picked up the ball sent to it towards Lucas and the empty net said thank you.
Liverpool were now 2-0 up and Lucas who was having a fantastic game scored one of his very infrequent goals. Goals which I am sure may well come more readily in team set up favoured by Brendan.
The pressure from Liverpool continued and I guess Bayer Leverkuson was relieved when Martin Atkinson blew the half time whistle.
When the second half started, Liverpool entered the fray with a completely changed midfield. Stevie, Jose Enrique, Luis Suarez, Stewart Downing and Lucas had gone off. Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and young Jack Robinson had come on.
Now I have nothing whatsoever against the lads that came onto the pitch, but it was immediately clear that they were what Brendan would class as his second string of players. Their inclusion in the team seemed to unsettle the rhythm and it was Liverpool that appeared for several minutes to be the ones on the back foot.
That feeling did not last long and Liverpool again signalled that they had every intention of scoring again when Raheem sent a ball across to Charlie Adam, who then passed it to Jordan Henderson who fluffed his shot. This seemed to spur the team on though and with the seemingly out of favour Andy Carroll on the pitch it was up to him to ensure that the game was out of Bayer's reach.
His first attempt at scoring was one of those attempts which unfortunately has become one of his trademarks. He picked up a ball from JonJo and shot it wide of the goal. His second of course was far better and having received a ball on his chest from Charlie Adam, he hit it home.
Bayer Leverkuson though were determined not to go back to Germany empty handed and Sidney Sam with 15 minutes to go scored after breaking free from Jamie Carragher.
The final 15 minutes saw both teams playing well and it was shame that there were no further goals scored. The match though was a pleasure to watch and if the team plays as well and continyes to improve as much as it has done since Brendan took charge ten weeks ago, then we must all be prepared for a fantastic journey as we move towards the climax in May 2013.
Several of the players on the pitch this afternoon, may not make that journey as their futures will be decided in the coming days, but their contribution this afternoon will always be remembered and I am sure that they will be welcomed back to the club in the same way that Sami was this afternoon.