The more this tournament goes on the more I think we are simply part of a public relations exercise rather than getting in vital practice against strong opposition in the run up to next Saturday.
Having played Shanghai we now play Feyenoord who I understand finished seventh in the Dutch league last year. No disrespect to Feyenoord, and happy anniversary to their port, but surely we could have arranged something better in terms of strength of opposition? Having said that it will be pointed out by the more alert of you that we still failed to beat them!
Benitez fielded a stronger team than played against Shanghai. It demonstrates the strength of the squad he took to Rotterdam that he could make eleven changes. Reina, Arbeloa, Agger, Jamie C, Riise, Alonso, Stevie G, Kewell, Pennant, Kuyt and Voronin. I don’t think that will be the team to start against Aston Villa on Saturday. I suspect there may be a few more tweaks, Finnan replacing Arbeloa at full back and Torres for Voronin? And in midfield would Pennant and Kewell both get a start over both Babel, Benayoun or Mascherano.
For the first 15 minutes we looked reasonably tidy and created a couple of decent chances one from Gerrard, that was ballooned over after a fair build up, and the other, from Kuyt, which rattled the underside of the crossbar. Kuyt thought he had scored and the replays proved him right. However, the officials were behind the play thus bringing forth the usual arguments about getting technology in.
Just before the break we made the schoolboy error. Slory got round the back of Riise and hit Reina’s left hand post, Drenthe followed up and fired past Riise who was tracking back forlornly trying the rectify his mistake.
In the second half Alonso went close with a low hard shot from Pennant’s corner, Babel and Torres came on, the latter playing in midfield, leaving the side horribly misshapen due to the number forwards on the pitch. However, as has happened so many times in the past, it was left to Gerrard to get us out of the sh*t. It was easy stuff, Gerrard picking up from Babel beating two weak tackles before “slid ruling” home between keeper and post.
After that the game disintegrated as both side lost concentration and discipline. Babel showed what he could do with a decent shot, Benayoun came on for Voronin to restore the balance of the side, but the defence made a horrible ricket in trying to clear their lines. We then we conceded a penalty even though the ball actually hit Arbeloa’s head! Reina saved from Bruins so justice done.
Then it got very silly with a massive ruck in the middle of the field over a few clumsy, but not especially vicious, tackles. Gerrard was involved so no doubt this will receive more coverage than it actually merits. It never ceases to amaze me when this happens as to how “girlie” it all looks. All that pushing, shoving and mock play acting. Why don’t they do as do in rugby and land some real punches or not bother at all?
Anyway game over, and one we should have easily won. Hardly the best way to go into the opening game of the season but I suspect everyone will get over it, after about five minutes! A bizarre tournament with weak(ish) opposition and strange refereeing but there you go. Apparently Porto won the tournament although we didn’t actually play them! They received The Port of Rotterdam “Trophy” which looked like a shoe box, or given the purpose of the tournament, a replica of a blue metal cargo container with an orange football stuck on the top – perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that we didn’t win it, though it might make a good door stop for Benitez’s office. The bearded one also had the attitude of someone who just wanted to get home and concentrate on next Saturday.
“I am not bothered really about what went on and how the lads were treated, it is not the end of the world. I felt the team played okay, we had some chances but could not score. In terms of football, we were all right. As for the tournament, this was a very strange one.”
So what can we read into the preseason games? It would be churlish to get too serious about anything at this early stage. Benitez chopped and changed and gave every one a game. Some have already suggested that the forward problem has not really been solved because of no goals against Portsmouth in Hong Kong, only two against Shanghai, The Whipping Boys of Rotterdam, and one tonight. However it is early days, how we will play and who is playing at full pelt, rather than keeping things in reserve, is still a guessing game.
Preseason is not the time to judge and it just remains to say, now to the real stuff, AT LAST!