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Liverpool on top in 2-0 preseason victory over AC Milan
The San Francisco Bay Area’s star-studded week of soccer has come to a close with Liverpool’s 2-0 victory over AC Milan at Levi’s Stadium in the International Champions Cup. The Reds are the second Premier League giant to have played in the Bay Area in three days, with Arsenal having defeated the Major League Soccer All-Stars on Thursday.
The appeal of the All-Star game, however, was about the glamour and flash of the occasion whereas tonight’s match was more tactically intriguing for the diehard fan. Jürgen Klopp has his team playing eight pre-season friendlies this summer, and this being the sixth, Liverpool are starting to mesh as a team. In comparison with Milan’s lackluster performance, Liverpool’s preparation was evident in a such a comprehensive victory. Although Milan’s defense was solid as expected, Divock Origi’s quickness was able unlock the Italian club’s backline early in the second half and Roberto Firmino rounded off the victory with a late winner.
If not for Milan’s last-ditch defending, the game could easily have been a blowout for Klopp’s men. Although Liverpool’s makeshift back-line have looked vulnerable under pressure this season, Milan’s blunt offense showed almost nothing going forward and coach Vincenzo Montella expressed a sense of apathy with respect to the fixture in his post-match press conference.
Klopp, meanwhile, is taking Liverpool’s preseason tour much more seriously. He’s using these games to improve his squad’s fitness and get them firing on all cylinders ahead of their preseason opener versus Arsenal.
Speaking to Football Every Day after the match, Klopp said: “We have to work on all these things. This is time for fitness, that’s it. We have to use it.
“With the style of play we are in a good way. It was the second game we played. The first game we lost, I know, but even then we were dominant against Chelsea. We played football. That’s the thing you have to train because it’s not natural in a team that you play together. You can all play but to play together you have to train. I’m fine with the status quo but I know we have a long way to go.”
The Reds nearly had the lead barely a minute into the game, with Sadio Mane’s cross being awkwardly bundled away at the far post with Philippe Coutinho.
M’Baye Niang nutmegged Trent Alexander-Arnold twice within the space of two minutes early in the first half but that was the extent of Milan’s attacking prowess, aside from two wild shots from distance.
Yet their classic defensive gameplay dictated the first half, with Gabriel Paletta making all sorts of vital tackles to keep Liverpool out. Jordan Henderson curled a dangerous shot onto the roof of the net just past the half hour mark, but Liverpool had to wait until the forty-first minute for their first shot on target. Philippe Coutinho slipped Sadio Mane in down the right, yet the star signing couldn’t beat Milan goalkeeper Gabriel with a low shot from fifteen yards.
Mane looked impressive anchoring Liverpool’s midfield from a holding position but the game didn’t really open up until the introduction of playmakers Divock Origi and Roberto Firmino at halftime. Their pace and incisiveness proved too much for Milan’s backline to handle with both substitutes finding the back of the net.
Origi provided the opener just before the hour mark, selling his defender down the left with a neat stepover, cutting into the middle and driving a low effort into the bottom corner of the net. Liverpool came close again ten minutes later but Paletta did just enough to put off Origi at the far post from Alberto Moreno’s clipped cross.
Firmino then rounded off the scoring in the seventy-third minute, converting Sheyi Ojo’s deflected low cross from the right at the far post. Ojo could have made it three with ten minutes to go but Gabriel made an important block and came up big again to deny Firmino with fourteen minutes to go.
And even though it was a friendly, Klopp was pushing his final players right until the final whistle — an attitude sorely absent from Milan on the night.
“Nothing in football is more important than the victory,” said Klopp. “There is no guarantee the way you choose [to play] is 100 percent the right way, but in the end, you have to make the decision about the way because you have to minimize coincidences as much as possible. The best way to do this is to keep the ball and play your passing, move the other team around. It’s not new for us because we were already a dominant team last year, but you can always be better and that’s what we try. In the end, we don’t want to have only one chance a game. It’s not about passing for passing, it’s about passing and creating spaces we can use. That’s what I saw a lot of times tonight.”