Liverpool failed to extend their unbeaten pre-season record as they concluded their preparations for the new season with a narrow 1-0 defeat to an understrength Celtic side at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday afternoon.
Brendan Rodgers’ side had won all six of their friendly fixtures but slumped to a disappointing defeat thanks to Amido Balde’s first-half goal despite dominating the majority of the ninety minutes.
The Scottish champions, who fielded just three players who were involved against Elfsborg on Wednesday, were forced to defend for large periods but showed great determination and resiliance to hold onto their early lead.
The tone for the afternoon was set even before a ball was kicked as both sets of supporters joined together for a hair-raising rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” which revuberated around all four corners of Lansdowne Road as the players emerged from the dressing rooms.
In the continued absence of wantaway striker Luis Suarez, recent summer recruit Iago Aspas was another opportunity to impress but it was Celtic who started livelier and hit the front on twelve minutes.
Stewart Downing’s attempt to win the possession back only diverted the ball towards Balde, who needed no second invitation to turn inside Andre Wisdom and slot past the advancing Simon Mignolet.
The England international was determined to make amends and nearly found an instant equaliser after Joe Allen’s fine solo-run but his goalbound shot was blocked by the impressive Mikael Lustig.
Moments later, Lukasz Zaluska was called into action for the first time as Downing cut in from the right before unleashing a fierce left-footed effort but the Celtic ‘keeper was equal to the task, pushing the ball around the post.
After a bright start, the Bhoys found themselves pegged inside their own half as Liverpool searched for an equaliser. However, they found Zaluska in inspired form after been given the chance to impress between the sticks.
Both Coutinho and Johnson saw their long-range efforts saved before the Polish shot stopper denied Aspas his fifth goal of pre-season from close range after Joe Allen’s inch-perfect pass.
A couple of changes in personnel by both sides at the break did little to alter the flow of the game as Daniel Sturridge looked to make an instant impact after being sprung from the bench. Downing and Johnson linked up down the right once again to create the opening for the striker but his curling effort went narrowly wide.
Liverpool’s inability to take advantage of their dominance and convert goalscoring opportunities cost them dearly last campaign and on this showing, they have yet to address the problem. Coutinho was the latest guilty party, fresh airing Downing’s cut-back with the goal at his mercy.
The five time European Cup winners eventually had the ball in the back of the net but their celebrations were cut short as Kolo Toure was flagged offside after heading home Gerrard’s set-piece.
As the game wore on, Celtic began to drop deeper and deeper but continued to defend resoultely and with great organisation to nullify the threat of their opponents talented attack.
Some more neat exchange-play between Coutinho and Gerrard allowed Jordon Ibe time and space on the right but hesitated, allowing Stuart Findlay to make the covering block.
Urged on by thousands of fans sporting red in the stands, Liverpool tried in vain to find an equaliser as Sturridge spurned another glorious opportunity, this time steering his lob wide of the upright after beating substitute ‘keeper Fraser Forster.