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50-50: Liverpool vs. Real Madrid

Champions League 14 hours ago
Read
Aug 5, 2010

Liverpool's quiet man makes his mark

It was a deliberately low-profile entrance. Unlike the new signings Joe Cole and Milan Jovanovic, Roy Hodgson wasn't introduced to the Anfield crowd. Instead, on his home debut, Liverpool's new manager quietly made his way to the dugout. At a club of this size, anonymity is not an option, and he was confronted by a contingent of man-markers, in the guise of photographers, but nor was it the grandstanding arrival others would have engineered.

• Liverpool 2-0 Rabotnicki Kometal

The quiet approach has its benefits, though. Navigating a path past Rabotnicki was anticipated, but Hodgson's has been an auspicious start. Persuading Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to stay and enticing Cole to Anfield suggests he has a credibility that does not require self-aggrandising gestures.

The spotlight was ceded to Cole, the scoring done by David Ngog, who was fast forging a reputation as the scourge of Macedonian minnows before a glut of misses, and Gerrard and the applause aimed at the players. There were few obvious signs an era had begun.

Because, at a ground that used to reverberate to the sound of his predecessor's name, Hodgson's went unheard. In one respect, it is surprising. Liverpool supporters traditionally attribute messianic powers to their managers. It is sometimes understandable, given Bill Shankly's charisma and legendary way with words, or Kenny Dalglish's iconic brilliance on the field. Yet others worshipped have been grandfatherly figures in cardigans (Bob Paisley), extended members of the Anfield family like 'Uncle Joe' Fagan or European technocrats, like Gerard Houllier or Rafa Benitez.

Hodgson's travels bring him some of the same qualities, but they are married with an old-fashioned dignity that was once Liverpool's hallmark. "It was a quality performance," he said of his side. "It's a long while since I have seen quite so many goal chances created. We are always learning about the players. The thing I have learned most is that their attitude is so good."

That was especially apparent in the case of another newcomer. "Joe came here because he thought he would have more opportunities to start games than he would had he stayed at Chelsea," Hodgson added. "Joe is very enthusiastic and wants to play every minute of every game."

If the unexcitable manager and his flamboyant flagship signing are a case of opposites attracting, there are the makings of a mutual appreciation society between Cole and the Kop.

Each hint of trickery was applauded; a delightful chip almost played Dani Pacheco in on goal was appreciated, an assured turn and accurate cross that Ngog headed in via the underside of the bar gathered still more praise. Another cross (in all probability) that clipped the woodwork was adjudged a shot by many of those who witnessed it. Definitely deliberate was backheeled first touch to baffle a defender and a shot that was palmed into the side-netting. Another met with a valiant attempt to block, taking it on to the roof of the net. It was a case of everything but the goal for Cole.

It made for an evening of open, attractive football although it would be rash to draw too many conclusions from such a mismatch. Nevertheless, Hodgson seems content to continue with the 4-2-3-1 formation Benitez favoured and it - or vastly superior personnel - allowed Liverpool to dominate. The lead was doubled when Fernando Lopes wrestled Ngog to the ground and Gerrard slid in the resulting penalty.

The captain's presence meant it was a stronger side than that fielded in Skopje. However, Hodgson's was an experimental approach, necessitated by the staggered starts to pre-season Liverpool's World Cup contingent have made. Martin Kelly was competent if rarely tested in the problem position of left-back and ventured forward for a couple of audacious attempts at goal while another teenager, Pacheco, offered glimpses of potential on his first start. Flitting between either flank and alternating with Jovanovic, the Spaniard showed signs of an embryonic understanding with Cole and provided one reverse pass should have led to a second for Ngog.

Indeed, had Ngog been more clinical - one attempt to stroll around goalkeeper Martin Bogatinov was especially misguided - it could have been a rout.

But then that might have made for too ostentatious a start to Hodgson's reign. And that is not his way.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Joe Cole - Granted his favoured role and allowed to express himself, the creator excelled. It was a heartening beginning although, admittedly, it is far easier to out-class such limited opposition. Nevertheless, after spending so much time on the bench for Chelsea and England, he seemed to relish the opportunity.

LIVERPOOL VERDICT: Hodgson had referred to this as his "soft" debut ahead of the real one against Arsenal next Sunday. With that in mind, the selection of Martin Skrtel ahead of Daniel Agger may have been instructive; likewise, the fact that Alberto Aquilani was only granted half an hour suggests he may be among the replacements for another major match.

RABOTNICKI VERDICT: Goalkeeper Bogatinov impressed in a damage-limitation exercise, while a late rally almost produced a goal. Off field, the Macedonian press corps numbered one journalist - a man who did walk alone at Anfield - and the travelling fans were around 20 or 25.

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