Why Do People Take Pre-Season So Seriously?

I sometimes watch a pre-season match. Usually, I only do so if I have nothing else on in my life and can’t find anything more interesting to watch on tele. I approach it with the same sense of interest that I do a football game not involving Liverpool; which is to say I’m usually doing something else on my phone and only tend to look up if the commentator gets excited. In fairness, I am not excited about the return of the Premier League season. I think it’s important to acknowledge that when discussing the extent to which pre-season is taken unusually seriously by certain people. There will definitely be a good number of you out there who can’t wait to see the Reds back in action. You will no doubt be picking your starting XI for the game at Stamford Bridge, questioning who will be playing as the DM and wondering which of the forwards will start. I do not intend to downplay your enjoyment of things, I just wish I had that same child-like enthusiasm for the return of football.

Instead, the powers that be in the game selling their soul as well as the lack of backbone of certain players has all but eradicated any slim degree of excitement that I once had. The announcement on Twitter of Jordan Henderson signing for Al-Ettifaq comes with a context warning of the fact that his rainbow armband has been made into black and white in order for it to be hidden from view. The club was muting replies that displayed the rainbow armband, but not homophobic abuse. If that doesn’t leave you feeling cold about the state of football, I’m not sure what you’re doing reading my pieces. Saudi Arabia will push to host the World Cup in the years to come, with the precedent of fellow human rights abusing Qatar having hosted it in 2022 put at the forefront of their campaign, no doubt. Manchester City will win again, with Newcastle United likely to do well too. I’m not excited, but why are so many people taking it all so seriously?

The Matches Are Glorified Training Sessions

We know as a matter of fact that Jürgen Klopp uses pre-season to get his players in the best possible shape for the season ahead. He does this by getting them to engage in double, sometimes triple training sessions. The lads are, for want of a better phrase, absolutely shattered. When a pre-season friendly is on the cards, the manager doesn’t let up in his demands of the players. Instead, he gets them to do a double session before heading onto the pitch to play the game. This alone should be reason enough for the matches to not be televised, let alone taken seriously by people who really should know better. Yet every time Liverpool play, there are countless pieces written about both the outcome and the performance. If we win, there will be some saying, entirely seriously, that we’ll win every trophy there is to win in the forthcoming season. Lose, however, and everyone should be sold with immediate effect, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

These are friendly matches that literally couldn’t matter less. The manager will be trying all sorts of different things to try to figure out how to get the best from his players in the forthcoming season, but we don’t really know what that is. There is a desire to try to read the tea leafs of the performances, yet the team that lines up against Chelsea will almost certainly bear no resemblance whatsoever to what we’ve seen so far in the games we’ve played in Germany and Singapore. I don’t watch the games, but I understand why some people do. However, I will never be able to get my head around why it is that the outcomes of them are taken so seriously. There are players missing from the squad who will likely get game time in the Premier League, yet some people are convinced that Trent Alexander-Arnold will be playing as the defensive midfielder for the season because he’s done so here. It’s just so very odd.

It Isn’t Just Liverpool Fans

It is easy to get lost in the world of Liverpool, thinking that it is only supporters of the club who get carried away about the likes of pre-season friendlies. A quick dip into the Twitter followers of other clubs, though, will quickly help you to realise that it isn’t just Reds who lose their heads at this time of year. The problem is that, most of the time, both of the teams playing in a pre-season friendly are doing the same sort of stuff that the Reds are, which is to say being experimental in their approach to the team selection and tactics. Your team might be looking great, but is that because they’re actually playing really well, or is it because the opposition is trying something that isn’t working and you’re able to take advantage? It is always important to take each performance and result with a pinch of salt, rather than getting carried away and feeling as though what you’re watching play out is going to be indicative of your team’s performance over the forthcoming season.

Football fans aren’t really ones for nuance, however. Subtlety isn’t our stock in trade. A win from a team means that their fans are convinced that they’re going to be winning the league, whilst a defeat is a sign of a forthcoming apocalypse. The truth normally lies somewhere in the middle, not least of all because Premier League seasons are 38 matches in length. The managers are doubtless learning all sorts with every game, but they are mainly about getting minutes into the legs of the players and ensuring that their fitness is as good as it can be ahead of the forthcoming campaign. Was Unai Emery playing chess whilst Thomas Frank was busy playing checkers during Aston Villa’s pre-season match against Brentford? Or were the two managers looking for different things from their players, neither of whom caring about the result beyond the standard manner in which people will always be competitive? Ultimately, for all teams, the only games that matter start on the 11th of August.

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