The Scouse side left World Cup winners Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina out of the side, although they did have captain Gerrard in the starting line-up, along with fellow England World Cup players Glen Johnson, Jamie Carragher and debutant Cole. Hodgson admitted before the match that the team put out in the home leg was a lot stronger than that of the game in Macedonia, with the former Fulham manager putting it down to the fact that, for the first leg, most players had only just returned from holidays and international duty.
Liverpool impressed in their first home game under new manager Roy Hodgson as they beat FK Rabotnicki 2-0 to put their name in the hat for the Europa League draw.
The game was also Joe Cole’s first start for his new club since joining from Chelsea in the summer and the England international played a blinder as he and Steven Gerrard seemed to enjoy playing together.
A David N’Gog header and a Steven Gerrard penalty were enough to defeat the Macedonian side who were thoroughly outplayed over both legs.
Rabotnicki were severely outclassed both on paper and on the pitch. Their side did not feature any players that played a part in the World Cup, nor did they feature any players of any kind of footballing recognition. The speed at which Liverpool played was simply too much for the minnows.
Hodgson had the dream start to his Liverpool career when he oversaw his side beat Rabotnicki in the away leg, comfortably defeating the team in a 2-0 win. The performance in that game looked very strong and this match was no different. The Reds started well and, after a powerful run forward from Johnson, David N’Gog found himself inside the penalty area in front of goal. The linesman, though, had his flag in the air before the ball had entered the net. A sign of intent, though, from Liverpool.
N’Gog enjoyed himself up front and would have been hoping to follow on from the first leg, where he scored two goals. The Frenchman, though, ruined a great chance just before the fifteen minutes mark after great link-up play between Cole and Gerrard. A clever flick from the former Chelsea man found Gerrard in plenty of space, thirty yards from goal. The midfielder played a great ball through to N’Gog, who was too relaxed when it came to finishing off. Rabotnicki ‘keeper Martin Bogatinov came out and stole the ball from the forward.
Cole was the creative spark for Liverpool, connecting with players really well in the middle of the park, and it was his pass to Daniel Pacheco that nearly carved an opening. The bounce just eluded the Spanish youngster, though, and the ‘keeper again came to the Macedonian side’s rescue. This started a very impressive period for Liverpool, with Cole and Gerrard at the heart of every attack. A Gerrard pass out wide to Pacheco was followed by a neat pass to Cole, who intelligently skipped over the the ball, giving Gerrard the opportunity to shoot from twenty yards. Never one to pass up an opportunity in that sort of area, the England man struck a low shot towards goal, with the ‘keeper saving and the referee awarding a corner. It was from the corner that the deadlock was deservedly broken.
A short corner from Gerrard found best mate Cole who performed a perfect dummy past the onrushing defender and lifted in a beautiful cross that was begging to be headed home. N’Gog got a firm header on the end of the pass to be greeted by rapturous applause from the Anfield faithful. Liverpool were well-and-truly in control with only twenty-one minutes on the clock.
N’Gog seemed to be coming into his own now with the striker finding himself out wide, giving Milan Jovanovic, Gerrard and Cole the chance to push forward into the box. It was the forward, though, who had the next big chance. A ball from Gerrard out to the right wing found Cole who delicately crossed in to N’Gog, giving him the perfect opportunity to head home from ten yards. The Frenchman, though, decided to chest the ball down, trying to tee himself up. The chance was wasted and the defence gladly cleared.
Liverpool were not disheartened though and continued to push forward again and again, trying to break down the Rabotnicki defence. A Cole shot from twenty yards curled over the bar as Liverpool tried to doubled their lead.
With the tie seemingly sewn up, though, the game seemed to peter out somewhat. The crowd seemed to lose interest a little and, after the loud opening to the match, had quietened down considerably.
That soon changed, though, on the forty minute mark when N’Gog was hauled down in the area by Fernando Lopes. Gerrard showed his penalty taking expertise by calmly placing the ball into the bottom corner to give Liverpool a little breathing space and all but end the match as a contest. The game seemed to be going perfectly for Liverpool who had restricted the opposition to very little time on the ball. It was Cole again, just before half time, who continued to create chances as his pass to Pacheco was then followed by a pass to N’Gog, who again failed to take the opportunity, attempting to pass when he really should have had the confidence to shoot.
Hodgson, though, will have been happy with the desire to play fast, attacking football shown by his side in the first half. This intent continued in the second half, with Cole aiming to put a cross into the area, only for the ball to be tipped onto the bar and bounce to safety. Jovanovic
Cole seemed to be enjoying himself in the central role for the Reds and found himself in the penalty area of the opposition after a great turn past a defender. His shot may have been going slightly wide but the ‘keeper again saved, resulting in another corner.
England defender Johnson endured a difficult World Cup for England but looked full of energy and aspiration as he pushed forward from the right-back position on many occasions. The former Portsmouth defender struck from outside the area on fifty-five minutes, with the shot flying over the bar. The front four players for Liverpool, as well as Gerrard who was given what seemed to be a free-role to roam the pitch, were forceful and potent throughout. A Gerrard pass to N’Gog was spread out wide to Pacheco who then fired wide from a difficult angle. Another N’Gog chance went begging soon after as a header from close distance was saved.
After the hour mark Hodgson decided to ring the changes. Alberto Aqualini was brought on for Gerrard and Maxi Rodriguez for Jovanovic. Aqualini struggled to break into the team last season under Benitez after the midfielder attempted to recover from an injury. The Italian, though, looked fit and ready to go for a season where Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva could well find his place in the team under threat. The twenty-three year old was ever-present in the Benitez Liverpool side and lacked composure on the ball while struggling to keep up with the English game. Argentinian winger Maxi played a part in Diego Maradona’s World Cup side recently. The winger only got few chances to run at defenders last night although, when he did, he wreaked havoc in the minnow ranks.
After the Premier League introduced the “homegrown”, 25-man squad rule recently, Liverpool will be looking to bring in some youth players to their first team. Players such as Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing could find themselves thrust into first team action in 2010/11. Kelly started against FK at left-back and, even though the Scouser is more accustomed to playing at centre-back, he looked assured and comfortable, bombing forward at every opportunity. Spearing was brought on for Lucas with fifteen minutes to go. He didn’t get much of a chance to showcase his talent but the young midfielder looked good and got a decent run out. Spearing is certainly one to look out for this season.
The game was pretty much wrapped up after Gerrard’s penalty, although a poor N’Gog header went wide of the target and a difficult header from Cole went over the bar; the fairytale wasn’t meant to be. Liverpool fans, though, can be very excited about the capture of Cole, as his naturally talented form of playing mixes beautifully with the precision of Gerrard and, hopefully, the effectiveness of Torres.
Pacheco did have a chance right at the end but the Spaniard wasted what was a decent opportunity, taking too much time on the ball and then not putting the ball in the back of the net. The Anfield faithful, though, can certainly look forward to some good football this season and, as many will be hoping, some silverware could come their way under new manager Hodgson.
How did Liverpool do?
Cavalieri – 7
The young ‘keeper had a relatively quiet game in terms of real tests from the Macedonian minnows but did look comfortable and secure in goal. He could be an able replacement for Reina, if needed.
Glen Johnson – 8
Didn’t have to cope with any sort of attacking threat from the opposition so was able to push forward on every Liverpool attack, with the England right-back starting the assaults on occasions.
Jamie Carragher – 8
Had a relatively easy game at the back, clearing up anything that came his way with great ease. The centre-back, who recently retired from England duty for the second time, looks as solid as ever as he goes into the 2010/11 season.
Martin Skrtel – 8
Looked strong at the back for the English side and, like the rest of the Liverpool defence, didn’t have much to do. He was assured and competent in what he did, though.
Martin Kelly – 8
Looked really good at left back and could be a big player for Liverpool this season. Normally plays at centre-back but, with Carragher and Skrtel in front of him in the team, could find himself moved to left-back. The English defender is definitely one for the future, if not this season.
Lucas Leiva – 7
Lucas looked good last night, controlling the midfield at times and filling the gap between defence and attack. Putting the Brazilian in the team allows Gerrard, Cole and other attacking players to push forward.
Steven Gerrard – 10
As always the Liverpool skipper put in a sterling performance, marshalling all areas of the midfield and linking up brilliantly with Cole. The midfielder scored a penalty and was brought off after the hour mark, with Hodgson looking towards Liverpool’s next game; the first Premier League game of the new season against Arsenal.
Daniel Pacheco – 8
The midfielder has only recently returned from the UEFA European Under-19s Championships but still looked sharp and eager to impress his new manager. He looks to be good on the ball and makes good runs off it also. Another youngster to look out for this season.
Joe Cole – 10
The star of the night. Cole was brilliant from start to finish, linking up well with all of members of Liverpool’s attacking line while managing to get some showboating in there as well. Exciting times are ahead for the former Chelsea midfielder.
Milan Jovanovic – 8
Along with the rest of Liverpool’s forward players, the Serbian international looked strong, quick and comfortable as he made his home debut. The winger is surprisingly tall for a player of his type but is certainly not lacking in speed; his crossing looks good and he swapped places with Pacheco on various occasions. A coup for Liverpool, who obtained the former Standard Liege player on a free transfer.
David N’Gog – 8
Scored the first goal of the game and looked lively but, much like last season, lacked any sort of composure in front of goal, whether the ball was at his feet or coming towards him for a header. If Torres gets injured or for some reason doesn’t score goals this season, Liverpool could struggle.
Alberto Aquilani – 7
Looked a lot more assured than he did at any stage last season. The Italian had a little flair also, which will delight the Liverpool fans. If he can get to grips with the English game he is, surely, going to replace Lucas this season.
Maxi Rodriguez – 7
Didn’t have much time on the field but showed his class when he nearly scored with ten minutes to go. Adds some pace to Liverpool’s wings.
Jay Spearing – 6
Got a decent run out for his boyhood team but didn’t really make an impact. This season could be a big one, though, for Spearing.