Suárez appears to be trying to tell us something
What would a body language expert have made of Luis Suárez at the MCG on Wednesday? To the untrained eye he looked as lugubrious as Graham Gooch on a long, bat-dragging walk back to the pavilion after a golden duck. Our first sight of him was getting off the bus and his countenance was indeed mournful, like he'd been sat next to Steven Gerrard and forced to listen to his captain's iPod (to be fair, Sussudio will do that to you). He then appeared on the big screen, sitting on the bench, and he still looked downcast. Seeing that we wondered how anyone could be so miserable sitting alongside the Brazilian Botticelli, Philippe Coutinho, who, even with his Renaissance curls shorn off, looks like someone you just want to throw an arm around and protect from the world's ills. And as the crowd roared when Suárez's mug came up on the big screen the Uruguayan couldn't even fashion a wan smile. It made you think of a parent trying to cheer up a grumpy child with buffoonery and exaggerated bonhomie, but Suárez seemed determined that nobody among the 95,000 crowd was going to spoil his bad mood. Finally he made the field, and he grouched into the match not acknowledging the warm reception. Not even a cursory golf wave. He still competed for the ball, mind, but that's in his DNA (as this commercial makes a play of). Overall, however, Suárez just looked like someone who didn't want to be there. Not just Melbourne. Liverpool too. Then again, who knows, maybe it was just Sussudio.
Liverpool are still a huge global brand
As Liverpool fans are constantly reminded (as if they need reminding), the Reds haven't won the title since the 1989-1990 season, and they haven't competed in the Champions League since 2009-10. So these days, as their finances wane accordingly (despite the multi-million-dollar cheques they're picking up for these international friendlies), even fourth in the table, let alone first, has been way out of reach. Whether that changes anytime soon remains to be seen but even if it doesn't it's clear from the reception they've garnered so far on their three-stop international tour that Liverpool are still very much a big club. What other clubs in the world could draw 83,000 to Jakarta, then 95,000 in Melbourne in the space of a week? (Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid, certainly, but anyone else?). Before their MCG match on Wednesday, Melbourne's CBD was crawling with red, and it was if the multitude had finally slid from their hiding places under their beds; the belated arrival of the long-feared Communist invasion. Inside the MCG these red shirts congregated en masse, and not all were so-called "plastics" or even 30-40-somethings who fell for British football, and Liverpool, in the 70s and 80s, and haven't stopped carrying the torch. There was a new generation of Liverpool fans in the mix. As a friend texted your correspondent as he witnessed the red hordes walking down Collins St, "imagine how popular they'd be if they were successful?"
No Pain, no gain
Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for Melbourne Victory and Ange Postecoglou, and he said some nice things about Victory's young winger (and Manchester United fan) Connor Pain, who this time last year was playing in the Victorian Premier League with Bentleigh Greens. Pain – whose grandfather, Tommy Casey, played in the 1955 FA Cup Final (for Newcastle United) and the 1958 World Cup for Northern Ireland – was a constant threat on the left, turning Glen Johnson around on a few occasions and getting in some smart crosses, as well as a stinging shot in the second half which Brad Jones did well to parry. The articulate 19-year-old, who flew back for the game from South Korea where he was part of the Socceroos' East Asian Cup squad, will now be hoping he can become a regular starter in Postecoglou's Victory this season; possibly filling the void left by the "Kiwi Messi" Marco Rojas, now at Stuttgart. On the basis of Wednesday night he will, suggested Postecoglou. "Why not? I mean, 12 months ago Marco hadn't scored a goal in the A-League [for Melbourne Victory], you know, and went on to score 15 because we invested time and our structure suited him," Postecoglou said after Wednesday's match. "And it will be the same with Connor, [Andrew] Nabbout and all these guys, we've got in those positions. We'll still want to bring the best players to our football club, there's no doubt about that, and we'll still make some key signings but we're never going to stifle our youth either, if they're coming through they'll play, simple as that."
Friendlies are inherently flawed
Liverpool's match against Melbourne Victory was 'just a friendly', and by definition there was a lack of intensity to the match – indeed, the harbinger of intensity, the first foul, wasn't spotted until the 58th minute. Conscious of not overdoing things and risking injuries to key personnel with the Premier League season so close, Liverpool seemed content to play within themselves. Victory seemed happy to follow suit. Accordingly, some sections of the crowd attempted to start a Mexican wave in the 60th minute. Fortunately, it never really got going. Ironically (because up until then he had been anonymous), it was Fabio Borini who put an end to a gestating wave when his slick bicycle kick on goal sailed just wide. But that's the nature of friendlies and what can you do? Credit must go to Liverpool, however, for sending out their best squad (though it was huge shame the stylish Coutinho didn't make it onto the pitch). Usually touring teams promise marquee stars along the lines of De Niro, Pacino and Eastwood but when their plane touches down in Australia out stumbles the likes of William Baldwin, Steven Seagal and Rob Schneider (insert your Stewart Downing and Jay Spearing jokes here). This time is was the home team fielding its second-stringers (albeit for genuine reasons). Not that the Liverpool fans cared. Some spent up to $750 to see their team in the flesh. That it was just a friendly mattered nowt.
The MCG is not an ideal venue for the round-ball game
There is no doubting the Melbourne Cricket Ground is an iconic sporting venue, but it's one designed for cricket, although it also perfectly accommodates Australian Rules football. On Wednesday night, however, we learned – well, we were reminded – how poor a venue it is for football (and not just because the surface was chopped up by recent AFL games) with the stands miles from the action, meaning it requires a fair bit of squinting – and elbowing of your neighbour – to work out who's who. Either that or you spend as much time watching the game on the big screens, which kind of defeats the purpose.
The rectangular AAMI Park is the best football venue in Melbourne by far, but with a capacity of 30,000 it's never going to be used for big games like Wednesday night's. So that only leaves the MCG and the oval-shaped Docklands. Not ideal. Such problems would have been highlighted had Australia won the bid for the 2022 World Cup, with the MCG, along with Sydney's Stadium Australia, in line to host a semi-final and possibly the final. It would have been interesting to hear what the rest of the world's football fans would have thought about watching matches 100m from the pitch.