Rovers stepped up their preparations for the resumption of the 2019-20 season by taking on Premier League leaders Liverpool in a friendly at Anfield this afternoon.
Goals from Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Takumi Minamino saw the hosts lead 3-0 at the break, before second-half strikes from substitutes Joel Matip, Ki-Jana Hoever and Blackburn-born Leighton Clarkson secured a 6-0 victory for the World and European champions.
It was Rovers’ first outing in almost 14 weeks, since the defeat to Derby County on March 8th, following the suspension of the Championship season due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Manager Tony Mowbray opted for a strong starting XI, with Christian Walton in goal, Ryan Nyambe, Darragh Lenihan, Tosin Adarabioyo and Joe Rankin-Costello playing across the back four, with Jacob Davenport, Lewis Travis and Bradley Johnson in midfield, and Lewis Holtby, Adam Armstrong and Sam Gallagher forming a front three.
As well as getting valuable match minutes into the legs of 22 different players, the Rovers boss would have been boosted by the return of Holtby, who came through almost an hour unscathed having not featured since suffering a knee injury against Middlesbrough on February 1st, as well as the return of Corry Evans, who played the final 18 minutes, after recovering from the fractured skull sustained against Preston in January.
Rovers held their own in the early exchanges, with a crunching Travis challenge on Fabinho the only notable incident, before Liverpool opened the scoring on 10 minutes with the first chance of the game.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cut in from the right and drilled a low left-foot shot from the edge of the area, which Walton could only parry and Mane was on hand to tap home, albeit from a suspiciously offside position.
The hosts doubled their lead at the midway point in the first half, when James Milner fed Minamino on the overlap and his centre from the left byline was tapped home by Keita from close range.
Liverpool were beginning to up the tempo, with Jordan Henderson and Oxlade-Chamberlain both firing wide, before Rovers had a golden opportunity to halve the deficit just past the half-hour mark.
Armstrong robbed Joe Gomez on the edge of his box, before lifting a shot over the outrushing Alisson, but the ball struck the inside of the left post, before rolling across the goal-line and away to safety.
And Liverpool made Rovers pay, as they added a third just moments later. Mane picked out Minamino in the area and the Japanese forward finished low into the bottom corner. Jurgen Klopp’s side came close to a fourth a minute later, but Walton made a smart save to deny Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Rovers then created two chances in quick succession themselves. As the lively Armstrong almost got in behind the Liverpool defence again, Alisson’s clearance fell to Rankin-Costello, whose lob from fully 40 yards out drifted just wide. Seconds later and Armstong’s attempted curler from an acute angle landed on the roof of the net.
Rovers kept the same side for the second half, whilst Liverpool made seven changes at the break and it was one of their substitutes who had the first effort after the restart, as Neco Williams’ shot struck the outside of Walton’s post.
Rovers then rang the changes, bringing on Danny Graham, Dominic Samuel, Ben Brereton, Joe Rothwell, Stewart Downing, Richie Smallwood, Elliott Bennett and Charlie Mulgrew after 58 minutes, with Samuel immediately involved, firing wide with a 25-yard drive.
Liverpool then made their final four changes just past the hour mark, with Walton making a smart save to deny newcomer Jake Cain, before the hosts grabbed two goals in as many minutes.
On 68 minutes, a cross from the left was glanced goalwards by Georginio Wijnaldum and Matip prodded home from close range, with the goal given by the Liverpool officials, despite strong appeals for offside from the Rovers defence.
Virtually straight from the restart, the ball dropped to Hoever on the edge of the area and his left-foot curler went in off the far post.
Evans, Hayden Carter and Jayson Leutwiler were introduced soon after and Rovers almost reduced the arrears a minute later when Graham headed the ball down to the unmarked Brereton, but he stroked a shot inches wide of the target from 15 yards out.
Liverpool wrapped up the scoring on 84 minutes when Clarkson wriggled his way through on goal, before lifting the ball beyond Leutwiler and into the roof of the Rovers net.
Mowbray’s men now have just nine days to fine-tune their preparations ahead of the home game against Bristol City on Saturday June 20th, however the nine remaining Championship fixtures will be an altogether different challenge to the one posed by the Premier League champions-elect.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson (Kelleher 61), Alexander-Arnold (Williams 46), Gomez (Matip 46), van Dijk (Lovren 46), Milner (Larouci 46), Fabinho (Wijnaldum 46), Henderson (Clarkson 62), Keita (Elliott 46), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Hoever 62), Minamino (Firmino 46), Mane (Cain 62 (van den Berg 82)).
Goals: Mane (10), Keita (23), Minamino (36), Matip (68), Hoever (69), Clarkson (84)
ROVERS: Walton (Leutwiler 72), Nyambe (Bennett ), Lenihan (Carter 72), Adarabioyo (Evans 72), Rankin-Costello (Mulgrew 58), Davenport (Smallwood 58), Travis (Rothwell 58), Johnson (Downing 58), Holtby (Samuel 58), Armstrong (Brereton 58), Gallagher (Graham 58).
Subs not used: Buckley, Chapman.