I am coming to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with pre-season friendly matches that Europe's famous (and not quite as famous) teams have made a habit of putting on over the past 10 years or so here in the US. On the positive side, it is prohibitively expensive to go to Europe and see all of these teams and players in person as regularly as I'd like to and until one or the other of my jobs starts paying MUCH better, this is an economical way to get a taste without breaking the bank.
For those who haven't been before, the downsides may be a bit less obvious. First of all, it is the middle of summer and unlike most stadiums in the UK which are built to shield patrons from the elements - in this case "the elements" means the sun. Of the matches I've seen featuring major international teams over the summer some have featured great weather but others like Real Madrid vs. Manchester United and yesterday's match have been scorching hot with a full helping of DC humidity and nowhere to hide. It was pretty rough watching from the stands and I can only imagine the players' interest in giving even half effort under those conditions.
Now, braving the heat for a few hours to watch guys like Suarez, Gerrard, Sigurdsson, Bale, van der Vaart, Modric, Vertonghen, Parker, and Reina show their stuff still isn't a bad thing. The problem is that due to rest after the Euros and the Olympics and injuries and the desire to get younger players a chance, we spent more time watching Adam Morgan, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, Stephen Sama, and Brad Jones than the aforementioned list of stars. If anyone can get a 100% on matching all of those players with their team without using another web site or Google/Bing then I'll be very impressed.
Despite the complaints, here are my observations from the match:
- Gylfi Sigurdsson (you knew he was leading off, right?) was a really imposing presence physically as well as having a great eye for a pass. He didn't have much of a chance to prove his worth as a set piece taker but he made a couple of very impressive passes (one of which should have been converted) as well as being on the receiving end a Bale cross.
- With the exception of Gylfi, Gareth Bale played more than any of the other stars but he looked like his ego was telling him he's too important to make much of an effort on a hot and humid day in the pre-season. This was even before Charlie Adam ran him on what didn't appear to be a particularly bad challenge (although I didn't see a replay so it could have been far worse). Bale did create two strong chances when he did feel like giving an effort and Lennon should have converted on one of them.
- Sometimes it's nice to see a storyline you expect unfold in front of your eyes and Aaron Lennon messing up the final product was there to provide that experience.
- Great to see some old names that I remember fondly (or not so fondly) from seasons past like THud, Jenas, and Former Blog Favorite David Bentley get some playing time. It would appear that Bentley has been spending all of his time not playing trying to perfect Cary Elwes' hairstyle from The Princess Bride. Doesn't he know Mr. Elwes is an Arsenal supporter?
- Spurs only have two forwards listed in their program for this tour - Jermain Defoe (not unreasonable) and Harry Kane (who?). If they don't get Adebayor (or something equivalent), things are going to get ugly up top at the Lane this season because Harry Kane isn't going to make you forget about [insert your favorite Spurs forward here].
- Turning to Liverpool - Joe Cole doesn't seem to be any better early in his Brendan Rodgers experience than he was before spending last year in France. He's not bad, just not worth the money I'm sure they're paying him.
- Nice to see Lucas back and at it but pre-season tours aren't exactly the forum to appreciate him - you need replays and season-long stats to understand the value he brings.
- Liverpool are certainly taking their time to adjust to Rodgers' style, to my eyes Spurs dominated the possession for most of the match when the better players were playing. Liverpool weren't even dominant later on when Spurs were subbing out and Liverpool were bringing on Gerrard for what I can only assume was an appearance he was contractually obligated to fulfill.