Jack Hallows gives his take on the important talking points from Liverpool’s ‘Premier League Asia Cup’ final win over Leicester City.
A win is a win and a trophy is a trophy.
Liverpool have continued their unbeaten run in pre-season thus far with a 2-1 victory over Leicester City, earning them the right to hold the ‘Premier League Asia Cup’ until the next instalment – likely to be in 12 months time.
The first half was honestly one of the best pre-season games of football I’ve ever seen and despite the second half petering out into a duller affair as the humidity and tired legs took their toll, there’s still plenty to discuss after the final whistle.
Don’t even bother please Barcelona
I’m going to start with obvious. Philippe ‘the absolute bloody magician’ Coutinho.
The Brazilian was on fire against Leicester, jinking and weaving his way past defenders, linking up superbly with his other attacking team mates and causing havoc practically every time he got on the ball.
His understanding of where Salah’s run started and where the Egyptian would end up was exemplary as he dinked a through ball into the winger’s pass for the Reds’ equaliser and of course, that stunning goal – the eventual winner I might add – was as close to ‘classic Coutinho’ as it gets really.
The no.10 has been the subject of renewed interest for Catalan giants FC Barcelona due to the increasing likelihood that Neymar could be out the door and while Klopp has insisted he is not for sale at any price, every player has one. Thankfully for us, Coutinho’s currently looks out of reach for even Barcelona.
Switching it up
It seems Klopp has decided on a slight tactical alteration where his full backs are concerned in order to help break down deeper lying defences this season.
As expected, Leicester lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, looking to sit in and hit the Reds on the break – a similar tactic to what all of Palace, Wigan and Tranmere have tried with varying degrees of success already this summer.
However, while usually the Reds would send one full back high up the field and bring the other infield to act almost as another defensive midfielder, both full back stayed spread for pretty much the entirety of the 90 minutes. This then saw the Reds deepest midfielder – Wijnaldum or Henderson for much of the game – drop right in between the centre back pairing, acting almost as a third defender.
They would then only break the line to receive short passes, turn and switch the play, resulting in a brief moment of space for the Reds attackers who could pre-empt the switch and drop off accordingly.
It’s something we’ve seen in all of the Reds pre-season games so far, with Jordan Henderson in particular adept at finding the full backs even on the half turn and is something that could be of great use in stretching opposition defences this year, allowing the likes of Salah, Firmino and Sadio Mané to run in behind.
Flicks, tricks and flair
Add in Sadio Mané to an attack consisting already of Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho and you get one hell of an entertaining front five.
The Reds attackers were on fine form against Leicester today, with exemplary first touches, roulettes, step overs, back heels, first time turns under pressure and superb close-control all heavily on display.
Firmino in particular looked as sharp as I’ve seen him since the Reds returned from their summer break, leaving large quantities of the crowd not just on their feet but standing eyes wide, mouths gaping wondering what they’d just seen.
Can’t wait to see what they’re all like when they’ve had the entirety of pre-season under their belts!
A trophy is a trophy… kind of
Okay, so it’s not a proper trophy but Jose Mourinho would probably count it so let’s roll with it.
Getting back on track, the Premier League Asia Cup may not be coveted as an offical trophy but it proved the Reds have what it takes to win silverware – against Premier League opposition at that. There were plenty of jokes when Islam Slimani’s header found the back of the net that this was another ‘bottle-job Klopp final spectacular’ but the Reds soon not only fought back but ended up dominating the game.
It’s only pre-season and the changing line ups, hot weather and lack of fitness and continuity all play their part but this was at least a taster for this squad of what they’ll have to do in order to secure Klopp’s primary target this season.
Time to step it up a gear
The Asian friendlies were a step up from the domestic, lower league opposition faced back in England at the start of the month but now it’s set to only get more intense.
The Reds next stop is Germany for the Audi Cup where they are set to take on Bavarian giants Bayern Munich before a match up against one of Napoli/Atletico Madrid the day after.
While pre-season makes it hard to judge where teams really are at – the Reds thrashed Barcelona 4-0 last summer – these games will provide a far sterner test for Klopp and his men and will give the German a much better idea of where the team is at from both a quality and fitness point of view.
Let’s hope they make the most of them.