Watching pre-season fixtures can often resemble tailgating a learner driver. You sit , accepting the reasons behind the sluggish efforts in front but cursing them all the same. Either way, you have no choice but to follow and endure.
The reds first three friendlies of the summer reminded me not so much of following a learner driver, but a learner driver in a milk-float, weighed-down by sand-bags and steel girders’.
More than once I considered slitting my wrists, or worse still switching sides to Deal or No Deal. Thankfully, with fitness came a timely prompt as to how to play once again. The Thailand game promised goals, the Singapore one delivered them.
Of course judging players during these drab affairs is difficult. Whether it a new signing, upcoming youngster or seasoned pro, nobody can showcase their true worth until the big kick-off itself. Using pre-season alone as a barometer of value may once have linked Andriy Voronin to Real Madrid in a deal dwarfing that of Ronaldo’s.
Nevertheless telling factors can still distinguish class from mediocrity, it’s permanent after all. You can highlight factors like touch, a burst of pace and awareness whatever the calendar. With this in mind, the future looks bright for starlet Krisztian Nemeth.
The Hungarian forward has been Liverpool’s worst kept secret for the past two seasons. Signed from MTK Budapest in 2007, he’s consistently lit-up the reserve ranks. Running parallel to his feats at the Racecourse Ground are a quite superb record at international level, bettering two goals a game.
Those who’ve viewed his progress with interest wax lyrical about his quick-feet, intelligent movement, eye for goal and interestingly enough – heading ability. Upon joining what was Gary Ablett’s Reserve Side he made-sure of an already probable Championship with a flurry of end-of-season strikes. Two of those came on his full debut against Manchester City, while another double followed at home to Everton.
In all he mustered 8 strikes in eleven games at the tail-end of that 07/08 league campaign, but also shone en route to Dallas and National Cup success. Indeed it was during the latter that I first caught glimpse of this precocious talent. Making his Anfield bow, Nemeth arrowed home an early goal to shock a static Aston Villa. The strike itself was reminiscent of Fowler in his pomp and stoked suggestions a first-team appearance may be on the horizon.
Involvement was indeed just around the corner. Although curtailed by injury, Nemeth did feature in pre-season ties against Villarreal and Rangers respectively. In the former he should have scored, squandering an effort when played clean-through.
In that particular instant it was evident nerves rankled. They lingered recently, specifically in the Thailand fixture where he appeared to try too much when in possession. Rather than pop-off an early shot on goal, the Hungarian seemed intent to beat every Asian in the capacity Rajamangala National Stadium.
Along with Dani Pacheco, Nemeth is surely the most technically gifted player in the Reserves, but strikers feed off goals, even at this pedestrian stage. Therefore it came as a relief to see him break his duck on Sunday with two competent finishes. His all round play too seemed sharper, a feeling of belonging no doubt now oozing through his game.
Maintaining such a level for the remainder of the close season may persuade Rafa Benitez to involve the youngster at times next year. To date he has not even appeared in the League Cup.
Nobody expects the boss to unleash Nemeth on a regular basis, that’s a gamble not worth taking. But easing him into the fray should surely be an option.
Of course when you do take a punt on a Reserve star you always run the risk of them floundering like a damp squid. There are Fowler’s and Mellor’s, such is life.
However, the perilous financial state of club mean the likelihood of splashing-out on a big-name forward is as strong as Katie Price donning knickers. A traditionally dismissive coach, Benitez might finally toil with blooding some youth.
The quality is clearly there in abundance. Not one of those promoted to Melwood this summer has looked out of place in games thus far. Jay Spearing is continually accomplished and looks best set to breach the first team threshold. Pacheco, albeit slightly light-weight is a classy talent. Defenders Martin Kelly and Mikel San Jose meanwhile seem capable of holding their own at this level, both impressing decidedly more than Jack Hobbs did at the same stage three years ago. Even Peter Gulacsi, hardly laboured during game-time, seems to command a good starting position when needed.
Many commentators pointed to the side’s lack of depth last term. Though loathe to agree with a profession boasting the likes of Matt Le Tissier, you cannot help but feel those views were justified. But depth stems from experience and this season Rafa may finally offer some.
A brief note on current affairs; The Xabi Alonso saga has hampered our summer. The will-he won’t-he debate is powered by an arrogant football club brainwashed by their own self-importance. That said, the fact the midfielder is even considering a move is surely down to Benitez.
For too long the boss has treated certain players with near contempt: Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy, Djibril Cisse, Stephane Henchoz … and the worst instalment arose last year with the Spanish playmaker. Desperately attempting to flog a loyal servant on the not so quiet would have angered even Ghandi. If Xabi does return to his homeland can anyone truly blame him?
The leaving of Alvaro Arbeloa is somewhat sad. The understated full-back was Mr. Consistent and seldom let the team down. All the same, signing Glen Johnson could prove a major coup. One of Arbeloa’s few failings was his inability to drive to the bye-line in deadlocked games crying-out for width. If our new England international adds this dimension to our play those frustrating home draws may be whittled down.
And finally, I never held Michael Owen in the same regard as Robbie Fowler. Recent events confirm why.