Friendly | Bukit Jalil National Stadium | Fri 24 Jul | 8.45pm
An easy win for Brendan Rodgers and Co.
Over 80,000 fans showed up at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium when Liverpool visited Malaysia for the first time in 2011. The Reds put up a good show and the Malaysia XI held up their end of the bargain as well in an exciting match that ended 6-3 in favour of the visitors. Four years on, the English giants return for the final leg of their four-match tour of Southeast Asia and Australia, having won the previous three with a combined score line of 8-1. The Malaysia XI side, on the other hand, have been assembled once again, two months after they suffered a narrow 2-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur.
Much of the pre-match build-up for the home team has been dominated by a tussle between Super League teams and the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM), which led to Selangor pulling their players from the Malaysia XI squad. Super League leaders Pahang have reluctantly allowed three of their key players to participate, while ending Dickson Nwakaeme’s hopes of taking part, while players of Super League champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have been surprisingly omitted.
Head coach Dollah Salleh has had to revise his 20-man squad at least thrice, leaving him with less than five days to prepare his squad properly. In the absence of many established stars, the Malaysia XI side is a weakened one on paper, but this match will allow several fringe players to stake their claim for a regular spot in the proper national team. Yong Kuong Yong, Ahmad Syamim Yahya and Christie Jayaseelan have another chance to impress, while Nazirul Naim Che Hashim and S. Kumaahran have been promoted from Harimau Muda. The five-man foreign contingent is led by Perak’s Brazilian centre-back Thiago Junior, who scored against Spurs. He is joined by compatriot Charles Chad Souza (also Perak), Liberian playmaker Zah Rahan Krangar (Felda United), as well as late call-ups Vincent Bikana (Terengganu) and Patrick Ronaldinho Wleh (Selangor PKNS).
Liverpool departed for their tour shorn of several big names. Club legend Steven Gerrard said farewell in the summer for the LA Galaxy; while Raheem Sterling left in more acrimonious circumstances to join Manchester City last week. Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho and new signing Roberto Firmino were given time off after international duty during the summer, whereas Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and Jose Enrique were omitted from the squad. Needless to say, new striker Christian Benteke did not arrive in time to join the tour.
Nonetheless, the new signings that have come on tour have largely impressed (FourFourTwo took a look at the pre-season performances of five of the newcomers so far). With two goals to his name already, James Milner has thrived in his favoured central midfield role alongside new captain Jordan Henderson. Strikers Danny Ings and Divock Origi have also scored their first Liverpool goals, while youngster Joe Gomez has impressed playing in both full-back positions. Some of the club’s youth team products have also taken their chances to impress Brendan Rodgers, with Jordon Ibe standing out with some exciting performances on the wing.
Key battle: Zah Rahan Krangar vs. James Milner
Coach Dollah Salleh is very familiar with Liberian midfielder Zah Rahan Krangar, who scored the winning goal that saw Felda United defeat Dollah’s PDRM side 1-0 in June 2014, halting their 19-match unbeaten run in the Premier League last season. Felda’s No.10 struck the back of the net 13 times in his debut M-League season last year, and has weighed in with three so far this season, including a goal in each of his last two games before the break. Most comfortable as a central playmaker, he also adds assists and possesses a knack for scoring from distance.
Krangar’s impact on Friday might be limited if he’s forced to shut down Milner all night. The free signing from Manchester City has been one of the main men of Liverpool’s tour, scoring twice and really catching the eye with some penetrating runs through the middle. Rodgers’ decision to return the 29-year-old to central midfield already looks to be paying dividends and the Liverpool manager hailed the hard work put in by his new recruit against Brisbane Roar, saying “he [Milner] and Jordan Henderson could run to Adelaide”.
The head coaches
Dollah Salleh knows that he’s in need of a positive result, following the national team’s dismal form in 2015. Harimau Malaya have yet to earn a win in four matches this year, with their failure to beat Hong Kong and Timor Leste (both teams close to Malaysia’s level, internationally) particularly rankling. At the very least, a victory over Liverpool is not expected, and as exhibition matches like this one do not award ranking points, it allows him to test squad players against a quality opponent. But the 51-year-old has worries about his team’s physical fitness, particularly the local players, who lag behind their five foreign counterparts in that respect. He jokingly told Utusan, “Some [local] players are still struggling for stamina, perhaps because they ate too much ‘ketupat’ during the week-long break.”
Dollah’s opposite number Rodgers has presided over an uplifting pre-season so far that has seen optimism grow, thanks to the raft of new signings and quality performances in their friendly wins, particularly without likely first-teamers Firmino, Benteke and Coutinho. Rodgers has switched between using a 4-3-3 and a midfield diamond (with Lazar Markovic playing behind Danny Ings and Rickie Lambert against the Thai All-Stars). With the abundance of attackers at his disposal, it will be interesting to see how he plans to fit them all in the same team.
Facts and figures
- Malaysia XI have only managed to score one goal in each of their last four friendlies against English teams (Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Arsenal).
- Malaysia XI’s only win against English opposition remains that infamous 2-0 victory over Arsenal in 1975, with the late Mokhtar Dahari grabbing both goals.
- Liverpool have conceded just one goal in their three pre-season friendlies thus far. It was scored by Brisbane Roar’s Dimitri Petratos, who was part of Kelantan’s AFC Cup squad in 2013.
- None of the members of Liverpool’s 30-man squad for their current Asian tour participated in the club’s 6-3 win in 2011.
An enthusiastic Liverpool side should prove to be too much for the unprepared Malaysia XI, and will run out 3-0 winners.
Tickets for the Malaysia XI-Liverpool match are available for purchase at Ticketpro, either online via www.ticketpro.com.my and hotline via +603-7880-7999.