Liverpool 3-1 Leverkusen: Sterling, Lucas & Carroll seal perfect end to pre-season on Hyypia's Anfield return

Liverpool ended their pre-season campaign in style by cantering to a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen on an emotional return to Anfield for opposition manager Sami Hyypia.

Teenage prospect Raheem Sterling opened the scoring with just seconds on the clock as he jinked inside his man to curl in and Lucas doubled that lead before half-time from close range. A flurry of substitutions took place at half-time including the arrival of Andy Carroll, who made his mark with a drilled finish midway through the second period.

But it was to be the Bundesliga side who finished up the scoring as Sidney Sam fired in brilliantly late on to put a respectable gloss on the scoreline for his team.

The hosts made four changes from the Europa League victory over FC Gomel, with Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel dropping out in defence to be replaced by Martin Kelly, Sebastian Coates and Jamie Carragher. Fabio Borini failed even to make the squad despite his goalscoring heroics in midweek whilst latest signing Joe Allen missed out on making his Liverpool debut due to his participation in an upcoming Wales friendly. Elsewhere, Sterling was perhaps the most surprising name on the teamsheet, the 17-year-old making his first start for the senior team at Anfield.

Meanwhile, former Red Hyypia named a strong line-up with the Bundesliga kick-off imminent, with the likes of Germany internationals Stefan Kiessling and Lars Bender being handed starting berths.

Despite Anfield being some way short of capacity, Liverpool began with surprising intensity and grabbed the lead within just three minutes. Jose Enrique strode forward from defence to play in the already lively Sterling and the young Englishman needed just one touch to go inside Daniel Schwaab and curl in at the far post.

The Reds’ encouraging start will have pleased manager Brendan Rodgers no doubt, but the subsequent defensive lapse which saw Kiessling head at Pepe Reina from five yards is certain to be as heavily analysed. Regardless, the hosts recovered well and used the opportunity afforded them by the early lead to put further practice into their new tiki-taka philosophy.

Liverpool continued to pass well but all too often found moves petering out in the final third and with Andrea Schurrle and Kiessling evidencing their pace on the break, the German side were clearly growing into the game. One such opportunity came when the latter slipped between Carragher and Enrique but spooned wildly over the bar when a considered touch might have seen him truly threaten Reina.

That scare did not seem to wake Rodgers’ men up though and they were caught out again moments later by Karim Ballarabi’s run in behind. Had the forward’s choice of pass been better prior to Reina’s intelligent closing down then Leverkusen might well have found themselves on parity.

With half an hour on the clock the hosts won a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box thanks to Suarez’s quick feet and it appeared Downing had been given shooting duties as he lined the ball up. However, the winger intelligently passed into the Reds No.7 who, inexplicably, had space in the box and, though the Uruguayan’s shot was blocked, the ball fell kindly for Lucas to tap home. Anfield understandably erupted for the Brazilian’s strike which fittingly marked his return after a lengthy injury absence last term.

The goal appeared to give the hosts further confidence to pass the ball, though they were almost caught with a sucker punch in the final moments of the first half. The impressive Schwaab got forward well from right-back and played in Kiessling only for the striker to fire over when pressured in the box. That effort marked the final action of the first period, one which Liverpool had dominated, despite some occasional lapses in concentration.

Rodgers made five changes at half-time, with Carroll, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Jordan Henderson and Jack Robinson entering the fray at the expense of Suarez, Lucas, Gerrard, Downing and Enrique. Hyypia was equally as busy in reshuffling his pack with Omer Toprak, Michal Kadlec, Schurrle and Bellarabi making way for Gonzalo Castro, Hajime Hosogai, Sam and Manuel Friedrich.

The numerous changes had a clear impact on the fluency of the match after half-time, with both sides failing to produce anything of note in the final third for the first ten minutes. However, that gap in quality attacking play was nearly filled as Carroll put Sterling free on the left, but the youngster was unfortunate to see his pullback met poorly by the onrushing Charlie Adam.

Carroll was then involved again as he met a Shelvey cross to the back post – the sort which suits the tall No.9 so well – but he could do little but force the ball wide of Bernd Leno’s post. If the former Newcastle man hopes to still convince Rodgers that he can fit into his system, then he could do little more than what followed in the 65th minute.

A surge forward from Adam saw him pick out Carroll and, after the striker had worked space on the edge of the box by letting the ball go through his legs, he struck home with a little help from some poor goalkeeping by Leno. The crowd’s reaction to the goal made clear their desire to see last season’s FA Cup semi-final derby hero stay, but he appeared to make the most of what could well be his last goal for the club.

The Reds used the subsequent minutes to consolidate their lead, but were pegged back slightly with 75 minutes gone by a wonderful strike from substitute Sam. The 24-year-old needed just one touch out of his feet before rifling in from roughly 25 yards, though the excellence of the finish is unlikely to have compensated for the poor pressing from Liverpool in Rodgers’ mind.

And only a sliding Coates tackle could stop the former Kaiserslauten man from getting in behind again moments later as the Anfield side’s performance became more disjointed as time progressed.

But a 3-1 lead proved sufficient to see off Leverkusen in the end and ensured that the Reds are in good form ahead of next weekend's Premier League opener against West Brom at the Hawthorns.

And the send-off for Hyypia which followed the full-time whistle certainly proved that the club's fans are in fine voice ahead of a return to domestic action.

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