Europa League Qualifying (first leg)
Thursday, 29th July 2010
FK Rabotnicki Skopje 0
Liverpool 2 (Ngog 17, 59)
The Roy Hodgson era got underway in Macedonia with the new Liverpool boss taking charge of his first competitive game for the Reds.
FK Rabotnicki billed it as their “game of the century” and the pre-match mood of Roy Hodgson suggested he was feeling the pressure somewhat. But despite having so many of his squad unavailable due to a lack of fitness following their World Cup involvement Hodgson needn’t have worried. The match squad included a large number of reserve and academy faces but in hindsight it gave the new boss a lot more information about the players on show than any pre-season friendly could have done.
A strong back-four had the promising and impressive Martin Kelly as the least experienced of the quartet, which also included Martin Skrtel, Soto Kyrgiakos and Daniel Agger. That trio had all been to South Africa, but had been deemed fit enough by the club’s new medical team. Agger carried on where he’d ended last season, at full-back, with the club’s only recognised left-back Emiliano Insua omitted from the travelling squad as he continued to negotiate with Fiorentina for a move away from Anfield. Pepe Reina was still on holiday meaning Cavalieri got a chance to put himself in the shop window with a quiet but confident outing between the sticks.
Jovanovic made his competitive debut for the Reds out wide on the left, with 19-year-old David Amoo playing right-wing. Jay Spearing started in midfield with Lucas – who was captain for the night and set up the opener for David Ngog. Alberto Aquilani played in an advanced role at the front of midfield.
On his own up front was Ngog, who scored both goals and impressed his manager not just with his goals but his all-round play on the night. Hodgson said: “Ngog has worked very hard in training and done very well in the pre-season games so far, I was pleased that he crowned his performance with two goals. I thought his target play, his general movement and his ability to keep the ball for us was also very good, but front players need goals and that will be a very big weight off his mind. Front players need goals, and he has got them, which means he can relax. He has shown us that he has the movement and touch, and quality. It will mean he doesn’t have to worry too much about the coming matches.”
Hodgson was happy with the result and the way his side performed: “I am very satisfied. It was a big crowd and some of our players that played are not used to big crowds. I was really pleased with the way everyone went about their business. It could have been very difficult for us, so we can go back to Anfield with a margin of victory which will enable us to feel a little more comfortable. I’m really pleased that we got through this test because they are an experienced European team, who can play some good football. I am encouraged by that.
“The players came into the game under pressure, and I am delighted it is a positive outcome and they can go back to Liverpool feeling good about themselves. You learn a lot about your team every time they play, and there were a lot of players out there who I need to learn about. Some of them I’ve hardly worked with, so it was a very good exercise for me in that respect.
“I’m pleased, but I am not going to come out and make statements on how wonderful this team is because we have a lot of good players to come back into the side. I came to the job knowing the situation, and the important thing is to put together a team that can match the expectation that surrounds this club. I don’t think I’ve ever said the squad is in need of a major overhaul. What I want to do is add one or two players to the team – which is what Rafael Benítez would have wanted to do – but it is important we keep the nucleus of last season and those players who were, perhaps, just behind the first team last year.
“I am delighted so many players who were under pressure – either as senior players taking responsibility or younger players trying to make their mark – can leave feeling good about themselves. It was a very good exercise for me. You learn a lot about your players as people in situations like this. Of course we know where our best players are – we had 13 at the World Cup – but quite a few of the others showed they are not out of place at Liverpool, they deserve to be here and it will be a pleasure to work with them in the future.
“If we are going to have a good season in the Premier League, we will need the stars back in our midst, but I can also say that we’ve got players who are maybe not as well known who have done a good job, who have stepped in and got a great result in conditions that were not easy.”
Although Hodgson stopped short of saying the tie was won, the result gives him the cushion to choose a side for the return leg that fits in better with his planning for the start of the league season and the visit of Arsenal to Anfield.
Rabotnicki (4-3-3): M Bogatinov – G Dimovski, Fernando Lopes, E Belica, V Sekulovski (sub: E Adem, 43min)— V Tunevski (sub: F Petkovski, 77), N Gligorov, G Todorovski – J Zé Carlos (G Mojsov, 57), Wandeir, Fabio Silva.
Subs not used: T Kandikijan, Marcio, Roberto Carlos, K Sinkovic.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): D Cavalieri – M Kelly, M Skrtel, S Kyrgiakos, D Agger (S Darby, 72) – D Amoo (N Eccleston, 83) Lucas Leiva, J Spearing, M Jovanovic – A Aquilani (L Dalla Valle, 83) – D Ngog.
Subs not used: P Gulacsi, J Shelvey, D Ayala, T Ince.
Referee: A Damato (Italy).