A Look Over Pre-Season So Far

I’ve written several pieces recently in which I’ve spoken about the pointlessness of reading too much into pre-season. The reality of the matter is that what we’re watching with pre-season matches is a group of players who are highly unlikely to play together during the league campaign taking part in what is essentially a glorified training session. They’re also all on the pitch for various reasons. Those that we can expect to see take to the pitch in competitive games are trying to get their fitness up, whilst players who the manager is thinking of selling are being put in the shop window. New players, meanwhile, are being taught the basics of the manager’s instructions of how he wants them to play, which is also the case for younger players who are hoping to learn and develop enough to be called upon from time-to-time if injuries or illness take a toll on the first XI.

Tickets are sold to matches and they’re televised because it’s a chance for clubs to make money and supporters to check-in on their progress, not because there’s an awful lot to be learnt by the more knee-jerk fans who think football clubs live and die by every result. If you think I’m exaggerating, bear in mind the number of people who thought we were ‘miles away from being ready’ when we lost to Borussia Dortmund and the others who are convinced that we’re going to win the league because we’ve beaten both Manchester clubs over the past week. If you’re willing to ignore those polarised opinions then there is still plenty to be learnt from pre-season tours, however. The crucial thing isn’t to ignore everything that happens, it’s to take it all with a pinch of salt and remember that the manager will be learning plenty about his players even if we at home can’t see it. Here’s a look at what I think we can take from Liverpool’s summer so far.

It’s A Happy Camp

Those that are skeptical about football would be absolutely within their rights to ask how much it matters that footballers are ‘happy’. After all, many clubs that have had dissension amongst the ranks have still gone on to win the biggest prizes in the game. Yet it’s also true to say that different managers work in different ways and Jürgen Klopp is definitely someone who values the spirit of his team and the happiness of his players. Heading into this season, we’ve got the strongest spine of the squad since the days of Reina, Carragher, Gerrard and Torres, meaning that there might not be much that separates us from Manchester City in terms of going for the title. The idea of the squad enjoying each other’s company and being willing to work for each other might give us the edge if there’s a matter of small margins in the chase for silverware.

Regardless of whether you’re hearing interviews with the manager, seeing players interact on the pitch or listening to supporters who’ve been to the matches, everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club seems to be in good spirits as the new season approaches. That is absolutely no guarantee of success, but the lads will be hungry to provide it after coming so close and missing out thanks to the antics of Sergio Ramos and the brilliance of Gareth Bale. Pep Guardiola has spoken of his happiness at the fun and enjoyment he’s having on tour with his players, but the same can’t be said of some of the other teams. In the wake of our defeat of Manchester United, for example, José Mourinho couldn’t wait to throw some of his players under the bus and it’s angered a good chunk of the club’s fans. We’re not in that position, which may be a good thing once the Premier League is back underway.

We’re Getting A Decent Squad Together

The first-teams of the sides at the top of the Premier League, those of the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool, are not dissimilar from each other in many respects. All of them have defences that have moments of weakness and midfields that can control games at will but can be overrun if the circumstances allow it. The big difference comes down to the quality of the squad overall, with the players on the fringes sometimes being called upon and needing to step up to the plate. We saw that play out to our detriment when Mohamed Salah was deliberately injured by Ramos in the Champions League final, only to be replaced by a half-fit Adam Lallana. Part of the reason that Manchester City were able to perform so incredibly well last season is that Guardiola could rotate his team without any discernible loss in the quality of the players that came into his side. If we hope to compete, we need to be in a similar boat.

I wrote last week of how I’m not convinced about Liverpool’s squad depth in some aspects, particularly regarding the defence and attacking options. I do think we need one more to come in at the back given the lack of reliability of Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan. I’m also keen for us to find another option in the front three to give all of them a rest at different times. Yet I also think that the manager and his team have a lot more faith in what Xherdan Shaqiri will bring to the team than many supporters do. You also have to wonder how much they know about Daniel Sturridge’s fitness than we do. If they feel like we can get twenty to thirty games out of the former Chelsea striker, how much does that change the face of what we can do in the Premier League? There are plenty of options if everyone in the squad can stay fit and that is surely to be to our advantage. Will it be enough to challenge Manchester City and compete on four fronts? I’m not so sure. There can be no question, though, that this is the best chance that we’ve had to do something special in years.

We Look Ready

One thing that’s been slightly underplayed is just how soon the Premier League campaign will be upon us. All of the focus has been on the end of the transfer window, and that is relevant, but that closes just a day before the new season gets underway. The preparedness of all of the teams hoping to compete for the title might prove to be crucial, given that there was practically no movement for the top two sides after six games last time out. World Cup years always see teams struggle to settle in the first couple of months of a season, meaning that the team that finds its feet the quickest will be in a decent state. We’ll start to see all teams settle down a bit over the next week or so, with the final players that managers want joining up with their new teammates and starting to learn the ropes. Yet no team in the Premier League seems to be quite as prepared for the closing of the transfer window as we do.

Yes, it’s entirely possible that we might still bring in one or two players depending on the outgoings, with a second-choice goalkeeper a must if both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius are planning on finding new teams to play for. If there aren’t any other incomings, however, we’ll still be in a decent position in terms of the players we’ve added to our roster. The manager has long fought for all of his players to be through the door in time for his pre-season training camp to kick-in properly, which is why most of the noises about potential arrivals seem unlikely to be given that the lads are off to France imminently. That means that our squad is pretty much here and ready to go, with the players who aren’t back yet thanks to their World Cup exploits mostly being the ones who know how Klopp wants to play inside-out anyway. Mourinho wasn’t shy in pointing out that the players that were part of his squad that lost to Liverpool over the weekend weren’t even ’30%’ his squad. That might explain the loss, but it won’t be making United fans feel confident about the games that are just over a week or so away.

Some Players Have Stepped Up, Others Haven’t

The final thing worth mentioning is the manner in which certain Liverpool players have stepped up to the plate during the pre-season so far and asked questions of the manager and the choices he’s going to make moving forward. I’ve already mentioned Daniel Sturridge, who has done plenty to give the manager food for thought, but what about the likes of Rafa Camacho and Curtis Jones? Most people will have thought that they were on the tour of the States to make up the numbers and fill in where needs be, but they’ve performed well when they’ve had the chance to do so. Jürgen Klopp has long shown that he’s willing to give players a chance regardless of their age, so they have to be hoping that they’ll be kept around the squad rather than sent on loan this season and will be given a chance in the League and FA Cups.

Meanwhile, Divock Origi has been given a chance to impress during the tour of the US and has entirely failed to so. Rumours have since emerged that teams like Watford are keen on signing him and it’s a move that makes sense for all parties. The manager isn’t someone who makes rash or rushed decisions, so the Belgian can’t complain that he hasn’t been given opportunities this summer. Sadly he’s just nowhere near the standard that we need if we hope to compete for trophies and he hasn’t developed enough to ask questions of Klopp. That’s the beauty of pre-season, though. It might not tell us average punters an awful lot about the players, the team or the system that the manager is going to use in the forthcoming season, but it tells the man himself plenty about the mentality of the lads at his disposal. The new season is now just under a fortnight from getting underway, so final decisions are being made and players who haven’t taken their chances might live to regret not doing so.

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