Jack Hallows highlights some of the main talking points from Liverpool’s tour of Hong Kong and what it might mean for the rest of the Reds’ pre-season.
The second phase of ‘Operation Pre-Season’ is over as the Reds flew out towards destination Merseyside on Sunday and it’s got to be said, it was a real success.
Practically the entire squad that travelled – Kevin Stewart (who left for Hull) and Danny Ward aside – got minutes across the Reds’ two fixtures and while it was only a pre-season tournament, it was nice to see them go undefeated and lift the ‘trophy’ at the end of it.
However, while the two victories were a positive, for me it wasn’t all smooth sailing and there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Liverpool desperate for Virgil van Dijk
It’s been a talking point all summer and until the Dutchman is seen in Liverpool Red – or white and black/orange – it’s just no going to go away. For good reason.
While Joel Matip is honestly one of the classiest central defenders I’ve ever seen, he’s not enough to keep the Reds clean sheets on the regular by himself. Partnered with Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez so far throughout pre-season, the big Cameroonian has simply looked a class above since the squad took to the field against Tranmere earlier this month.
If the Reds are truly going to improve their defensive record this season then Lovren cannot be an assured starter when fit. The Croatian struck up a solid partnership with Matip last season and there were games that they looked impenetrable but his habit for high-profile errors and rash decision making still lingers.
With van Dijk still keen on moving to Liverpool and recently having been banished to train on his own after asking to leave Southampton, it’s time the Reds put their money where their mouth is, swooped fast and snapped him up. Then let’s just steer well clear of Southampton for the next ten years or so alright Liverpool?
Mo Salah’s signing huge for Liverpool’s attacking potential
He’s bloody quick isn’t he?
Mohamed Salah’s signing this summer is going to end up being huge for Liverpool I can feel it already. Watching the Egyptian skin Palace and Leicester defenders with absolute ease across the Reds’ two PL Asia Trophy fixtures was a joy to watch and with the return of Sadio Mané looming on the horizon, Liverpool’s attack is set to go up another gear.
A front three of Mané – Firmino – Salah would prove absolutely unstoppable on the counter-attack, while the trio’s technical ability, vision and movement are all deadly weapons against deep-lying defences. Factor in the further addition of a certain Brazilian playmaker in a deeper creative role and you’ve probably got one of the most potent front fours in the Premier League.
Coutinho had shown what he is capable of when played deeper at the tail end of the 2016/17 campaign by scoring three goals and assisting two in the Reds final pair of fixtures but he looked on another level in Hong Kong. Especially against Leicester.
With the pace of Salah/Mané, the creativity of Coutinho and the trickery of Firmino, the Reds no longer look a one-trick pony going forward and with other options such as Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana also available, it would be a surprise to see the Reds have difficulty scoring goals this coming campaign.
Tactical tweaks to remain subtle
When Klopp spoke prior to the Hong Kong tour of making tactical adjustments to help with breaking down deep-lying defences and help the players adapt to certain situations, many thought this meant new systems and formations would be implemented. This really wasn’t the case.
Instead, the tactical tweaks on show were far more subtle and while there were still a few systematic changes in-game, the formation generally held a very similar shape.
An example of this is the way that if a low defensive block was employed, the Reds would simply look to bring Henderson – or whoever else was tasked with the job – into play, switching the ball to the opposite wing where the full back would already be stationed wide to stretch the back four.
The pace and awareness of Salah, Firmino and Solanke in particular then opened up pockets of space for brief moments, allowing for a penalty area overload from the midfield runners that – as we saw last season – is so effective for confusing defenders or simply, allowing for long range shooting opportunities.
Klopp won’t rush youngsters but they must be prepared
We know from past experience more than anything that Jürgen Klopp will not rush the development of his young stars such as Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joe Gomez, Ben Woodburn and Dominic Solanke but if these pre-season fixtures taught us anything, it’s that these younger players will have to be ready to hit the ground running this coming campaign.
With the Reds competing in Europe alongside their domestic commitments, Klopp will likely be forced to hand such players far more opportunities – especially in the earlier rounds of the domestic cup competitions – and it’s up to them to grasp their chances with both hands.
Klopp evidently rates the youngsters that frequent first-team action and haven’t yet been sold off yet but while they won’t be rushed or receive their final judgements prematurely, they’ll soon be hit by the realisation that potential can only get you so far.
The same can honestly be said of the likes of striking trio Danny Ings, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge. All are likely to face a crunch campaign this next nine months or so with all three finding their place in line sits behind Brazilian Roberto Firmino who for all intents and purposes isn’t a ‘true number nine’ in the same way that they are.
Now the real fun begins
The Premier League Asia Trophy was good fun and truly the first half against Leicester felt like the return of Premier League football to our lives but now the real fun begins.
The Reds head back to Merseyside for the next week before stage three of pre-season begins with two Audi Cup fixtures in Germany against Champions League giants Bayern Munich and one of Atletico Madrid/Napoli on August first and second.
While it’s only pre-season, the pair of games will give fans a look at what they can potentially expect if the Reds are successful in their play-off double header coming up next month that will confirm whether or not they’ve actually achieved Champions League status.
Hopefully by this time we could also see the return of star man Sadio Mané to Klopp’s line-ups while also being given a firmer idea of what the starting XI for the opening Premier League weekend trip to Watford will look like.