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International Champions Cup: Liverpool Defeat Olympiakos in Chicago

A 5th minute goal from Raheem Sterling was all Liverpool needed as they kicked off their International Champions Cup group play with a 1-0 win over Olympiakos at Soldier Field.

When the lineup was announced, it was clear that Brendan Rodgers is taking this preseason tournament about as serious as a manager can. The starting lineup was particularly strong for a preseason match. From the moment the match kicked off, it was apparent that the players were taking it pretty seriously too. Liverpool came out and put heavy pressure on the Olympiakos defense right from the start. Glen Johnson earned the Reds a free kick from a dangerous area when he cut inside and was taken down just outside the box in the 4th minute. Unfortunately, this was the last real positive contribution from Johnson, as he looked very poor, especially going forward, for the rest of the time he was in the game. Although the free kick amounted to nothing, it didn't take long for Liverpool to take the lead. In the 6th minute Steven Gerrard played a ball to Daniel Sturridge at the top of the box. Sturridge was in a great position to score, but he slipped in the process of taking the shot, and didn't get much power on it. Fortunately, it took a slight deflection off of a defender, and fell to Raheem Sterling who was crashing the net. Sterling was able to get a foot on it and put Liverpool on top.

Liverpool continued to threaten for the next half hour. Not long after Raheem's goal, Jose Enrique played a long ball over the top that put Daniel Sturridge in alone on goal, but he was just offside. In the 20th minute Lazar Markovic made a strong run forward that was cut short when he was taken down outside the box, but Sturridge put the ensuing free kick into the wall. Eight minutes later, Studge dribbled down the right wing and cut inside the box where he used some fancy footwork to get enough room for a shot that he was unable to put on goal. After the first half hour, Olympiakos began to take control, and for the last 8 minutes or so the ball rarely left the Liverpool side of the pitch. The defense was able to hold strong however, and were able to prevent any real goal threats despite several late corners.

Although Liverpool were the more threatening side for the majority of the first half, they were noticeable conservative  after the first 15 minutes or so. Already having a lead, they pushed fewer numbers forward, and they played more and more conservatively as the game wore on. This was especially evident as the 2nd half began. The strategy was clearly to protect the lead rather than push to increase it.

Olympiakos came very close to equalizing shortly after halftime when Gevorg Ghazaryan curled a shot towards the far post, but it banged off the crossbar. They had another chance just moments later, but the Olympiakos shot was kept out by a deflection. The game deteriorated and became rather dull until the 62nd minute when both teams made a trio of subs. With 6 sets of fresh legs on the field, the game temporarily opened up, and the next 5 minutes saw relentless back and forth play from both sides. This pace didn't last long, and by the 70th minute the two teams had resumed their roles: Olympiakos trying to find an equalizer with little success and Liverpool playing mostly behind the ball. In the 80th minute, a bad Joe Allen pass in the back was intercepted by Andreas Bouchalakis. Bouchalakis was streaking alone towards goal, but Sebastian Coates was able to catch up and bump into him which resulted in a poor touch around a charging Brad Jones. In the end, Joe Allen was able to catch up and Bouchalakis wasn't able to get a shot away after his long touch. Olympiakos had one last chance to equalize 3 minutes into stoppage time, but Andreas Samaris' shot was stopped by Brad Jones. Liverpool was able to quickly counter through Jordan Ibe. Ibe put in a good cross to Allen who was unable to finish the chance at the near post. The final whistle blew just moments later, giving Liverpool the win

Some thoughts and notes:

Sterling and Sturridge were the best players on the pitch. They caused the opposing defense quite a bit of trouble, and look to be building very good chemistry.

Markovic made some very good runs forward, but his passing and shooting were a bit off. He clearly has the talent to be special, but he is still pretty raw.

Emre Can put in another very good performance, and it certainly seems like his purchase was an absolute steal at 10 millions pounds.

As I said before, Glen Johnson continues to look poor. Other than drawing the foul in the 4th minute, he couldn't do anything right when on the attack.

Coutinho looked very good again despite playing only the last 30 minutes when Liverpool weren't pushing very many players forward. I thought Coutinho was going to struggle for playing time with the purchases of Can and Lallana, but if he keeps playing like this he will play as much as he can handle.

It was nice to see the team comfortably protect a lead. It's no secret the defense was prone to ruining clean sheets late in games last season, so it was good to see them hold strong and minimize Olympiakos' chances.

Liverpool's next match will be against Manchester City in Charlotte, NC on Saturday August 2nd.