As the Liverpool squad return to training ahead of their warm-up fixtures, Jack Lusby highlights five players who need to impress this pre-season.
With most of Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool squad returning for pre-season training this week, the Reds’ build-up to another gruelling campaign begins.
With Premier League, Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup contention looming as the 2015/16 season dawns, Liverpool will need to utilise their pre-season as a platform to build for success.
For some players, however, pre-season is an important opportunity to stake a claim for a first-team spot or a long-term role within Rodgers’ squad.
Roles can be earned and futures can be secured—so who needs to hit the ground running this pre-season?
Here are five players who need to impress.
Portuguese-English centre-back Tiago Ilori is one of the Liverpool players set to return late to pre-season training, after his exploits in the European Under-21 Championship this summer.
As such, the pressure on the 22-year-old to perform ahead of the 2015/16 is heightened.
Having spent the last two seasons on loan with Granada and Bordeaux, Ilori has falling in the defensive pecking order at Anfield, but his performances as Portugal U-21s marched to the final of the Euros this summer could point to a bright future.
Able to play at left or right centre-back, Ilori’s chances of establishing himself in Rodgers’ first-team thoughts are increased.
But with Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel an accomplished pairing, he will need to impress in order to break through into a regular role—ideally, his intelligence, pace and composure in defence would make him Sakho’s ideal right-sided partner.
Much of Ilori’s hopes will likely rest of the performances of fellow centre-back Dejan Lovren this summer.
It’s fair to say Lovren didn’t get off on the right foot in his first season on Merseyside.
The Croatian looked very much in awe of his surroundings, jeopardising his defensive principles in the meantime—after making the switch from Southampton for an astonishing £20 million, Lovren looked desperate to impress.
Dropped in favour of Sakho in December of last year, Lovren returned to regular action in mid-February.
Although he still represented the Reds’ worst centre-back option at that point, there were signs of improvement from the 26-year-old.
If he can hone his aerial ability and confidence in possession, and improve his defensive positioning, with consistent performances throughout pre-season, Lovren could offer a decent alternative to the limited Skrtel in the right-sided role.
Where does Adam Lallana fit within Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice starting lineup this season?
Providing Emre Can moves into midfield, Jordan Henderson and James Milner both play 90 minutes whenever possible and Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino take up regular roles behind the striker, there seems little room for Lallana.
With this in mind, the 27-year-old has a serious challenge on his hands this pre-season: to prove he can perform to a consistently high level and to maintain his fitness.
On paper, he could be an important player within Rodgers’ first team. He can score, he can create, he works incredibly hard and he has considerable experience as one of Liverpool’s older players.
Yet is he better than Coutinho? Or more promising than Firmino?
Lallana’s pre-season performances could play a big part in Rodgers deciding which system he primarily utilises in 2015/16. A 4-2-3-1 is his best chance of a regular starting role.
Much like his fellow Balkan Lovren, Markovic struggled in his first season under Rodgers.
Through little fault of his own, Markovic failed to produce a consistent run of high-level displays in 2014/15 due to his being utilised in all manner of out-of-position roles.
He isn’t a wing-back, for example—Markovic is best used as a left-sided attacking midfielder; a role he was deployed in just once last term.
With Raheem Sterling likely to leave Liverpool this summer, a strong pre-season could see Markovic cement himself as a key replacement for the 20-year-old in Rodgers’ attacking line.
Pacy, direct and fearless, Markovic can thrive so long as he is given the chance to.
As Rodgers revamps his centre-forward ranks this summer, there remains doubt over who his key players will be up front.
The injury-prone Daniel Sturridge will be hoping to return as first choice when he recovers from his summer hip surgery, while Liverpool’s pursuit of £32.5 million Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke suggests the Belgian would be a regular feature were he to join the Reds.
Meanwhile, new signing Danny Ings looks set to battle it out with fellow summer arrival Divock Origi for the third-choice spot.
Ings has considerable factors going in his favour.
He has Premier League experience, he is a proven goalscorer and he is arguably already used to a similar, hardworking style of play to that of Rodgers’ Liverpool.
However, Origi is the most similar to current first choice Sturridge, and is a player whom Rodgers described as a potentially “world-class” striker.
“He is a top player. He has everything – the speed, the profile and he could play for Liverpool now,” the manager continued.
It could be that Ings has more to prove than Origi this pre-season.
Who else needs to impress for Liverpool this pre-season? Let us know in the comments below.