Why Pre-Season Matches Don’t Matter

I originally entitled this piece ‘Why Pre-Season Doesn’t Matter’, but of course it does. For Jürgen Klopp and his backroom staff, pre-season is when they get to put the players through their paces. For the new lads, such as Darwin Núñez and Fábio Carvalho, as well as the younger ones, it allows them to find out exactly what will be expected of them from the manager. A lot of the players get to work together for pretty much the first time, finding out what Trent Alexander-Arnold, Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk are like in training. It is an opportunity for everyone at the football club to come together and get to know one another, both on and off the training ground. In that sense, the decision to head straight to Bangkok is probably a good one, given that it stops them from heading home in the evening and instead forces them to spend time together, learning how the will interact moving forward. As supporters, of course, we won’t really see any of this, instead being limited to the matches that they play.

If I had my way, the matches wouldn’t even be televised. There is no need for supporters to sit and agonise over what the various games mean in the grand scheme of things, given that the answer is that they don’t mean anything. Liverpool could lose every single game that we play between now and the season opener and it would not mean a thing in terms of what is going to happen during the next campaign. Pre-season is about the fitness of the players and the manager trying new things with his formation and playing style. It is about Luis Diaz getting a proper chance to learn what Jürgen Klopp expects of him. It is about Harvey Elliott being able to prove that he is back to full fitness and raring to go. It is not about the result of a match against Manchester United that no one on the pitch will be putting as much effort into as they do when we head to Old Trafford or they come to Anfield. The problem is, plenty of fans don’t realise the matches really don’t matter.

Pre-Seasons Gone By

If you want a sense of how little pre-seasons matter, it is worth considering what has happened in them in years gone by. Ahead of last season, for example, our first two friendlies ended 1-1 before we defeated Mainz and then lost to Hertha. Two wins were followed up with a draw against Athletic Bilbao and then we win the last two games. That in now reflects how we did in the campaign that followed, during which time we won two of the four competitions we were in and nearly won the other two. What, then, of the pre-season before we won the league? We started in great style, defeating Tranmere Rovers 6-0, but then lost four of the other six games that we played in, as well as drawing against Sporting. The campaign before that, when we went on to win the Champions League, we won all but two of our pre-season friendlies, including a 2-1 win over Manchester City who we would go on to draw with and lose to during the season proper.

In other words, pre-season matches bear no relation whatsoever to what happens during the campaigns that follow, yet people continue to put huge amounts of stock into them. If past pre-seasons are anything to go by, a series of friendlies in which we lose every game that we play will be more beneficial than when we win every one. Jürgen Klopp has said more than once that he learns more in defeat than victory. If we go out this summer and defeat every team that we face, what will he and his backroom staff learn about their players? That they’re very good? I’m fairly certain that that is information that he already has. If he tries different formations or combinations of players or even tactical approaches and we lose, that will give him a wealth of information that he can use moving forwards. Maybe Carvalho works in the ‘Bobby Firmino’ role against some teams but not others, for example. Good to know when the manager is trying to decide who to pick against Fulham, say.

Only Watch If You Don’t Have Anything Else To Do

Tomorrow’s pre-season friendly kicks off at two in the afternoon UK-time, so most people should be working and unable to watch it. For those that aren’t busy, I wonder whether they should find themselves something to do instead. Let us imagine a world in which Manchester United win 3-1. Do we really think that that means that Erik Ten-Hag has managed to get a tune out of his players already and they’re suddenly going to go from finishing sixth to competing with us and Manchester City? Equally, if we beat them 10-0 does that signify that they’re going to be engaged in a relegation battle once the season proper gets underway? The likelihood is that, whatever the scoreline, the matches against them will be competitive in the forthcoming campaign and we will still be significantly better than them come May. One-off matches tell you very little at the best of times, let alone when the manager is trying new things and the players are learning what he expects of them.

That being said, there are a few things I’d love to see emerge from pre-season. For starters, I’d love Darwin Núñez to score a hatful of goals. There will be rivals of Liverpool wondering if the departure of Sadio Mané to Bayern Munich is going to have a big impact on the Reds. Mané had proven himself to be on the of the most important and adaptable players under the manager, so someone coming in and immediately hitting the ground running, scoring goal after goal will give opposition managers pause for thought. Equally it would be great to see Harvey Elliott take his game to the next level and Curtis Jones prove that calls for a new midfielder aren’t as urgent as everyone seems to think. It would be lovely to watch Diogo Jota remind everyone that he has been quickly forgotten, to say nothing of Mo Salah offering a glimpse of why his new contract hasn’t been misplaced. Even so, if none of those things happen it really doesn’t matter, because neither do pre-season matches.

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