Liverpool face a test of their resolve today, and the season has not even started yet. Pre-season matches do not tend to change the world, but performances that disappoint the fans can set the wrong tone for when the real action starts.
There was certainly a contrast between the way Liverpool coped with the hosts, Ajax, in their opening 0-0 draw in the Amsterdam Tournament on Friday and the ease with which a slick Internazionale disposed of Galatasaray 3-0 in the event's other match. Harry Kewell expressed himself satisfied with his first outing since being injured during his debut against Crewe Alexandra two weeks ago, the £5m signing from Leeds United slotting in on the right wing. But Milan Baros's verdict on Liverpool's form so far was the Czech version of "get your fingers out".
Gérard Houllier's side ought to do just that today to ensure they look convincing against the Turkish side Inter disposed of so easily. Comparisons may be odious, but Liverpool will not want a performance that generates countless muttered "Oh dears".
Liverpool start their Premiership campaign in two weeks' time against the side who, like them, are hoping to break the Manchester United-Arsenal stranglehold on the championship, the newly rich Chelsea. "I would say there is still room for improvement," was Baros's message to the fans on the club's website. "We haven't lost yet, but we can do better.
"Last season wasn't the best. Some new faces have arrived during the summer and that can only benefit us."
New faces can take time to settle, but at least Kewell has not come straight in from abroad, like the French youngsters Anthony Le Tallec and Florent Sinama Pongolle.
Middlesbrough, who won 3-2 at Sheffield United yesterday, have had their share of foreigners, from Juninho to George Boateng and Massimo Maccarone, but they looked closer to home for their latest addition, luring the left-back Alan Wright from Aston Villa.
Boro have had their brush with financial disaster and, like so many other clubs in recent years, they will be grateful that in this country the attitude to near-bankrupt clubs is not as rigid as it is in many parts of Europe, where those who are unable to pay their bills face the prospect of relegation.
The latest to suffer that fate are Real Oviedo. In Spain's top division as recently as the 2000-01 season, Oviedo suffered a loss of income through relegation and then last season finished in the drop zone in the Second Division, with their financial plight worsening. Now their inability to reach agreement on wages owed to their players has led to a further demotion, to the regional Fourth Division.
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