Liverpool ran riot at Wembley and spanked Barcelona 4-0 on Saturday in front of the second-highest attendance since the stadium’s rebuild.
Sadio Mane scored his first goal in a Liverpool shirt to put the Reds ahead after a fine break down the right, with goals two and three coming within a few minutes after the second half got underway.
The Reds’ second came as Jordan Henderson pressured Javier Mascherano into scoring an own goal on the slide, before Divock Origi ran through to coolly make it three.
An excellent header from Marko Grujic sealed an emphatic victory just before Martin Atkinson blew for full-time.
Liverpool’s participation in the International Champions Cup thus came to a highly satisfactory end, and Jurgen Klopp will take plenty of positives from the 90 minutes as his team prepare for the season ahead.
Turnovers in Midfield
Rumour has it that Opta served notice during the first half that they will refuse to cover Liverpool’s games this season as they won’t have the man-power to track all the challenges made by those in red every week.
‘Pressing’ is often cited in this Liverpool team as a general term for how the Reds seek to win back possession, but the importance in this game was where they pressed.
The middle third of the pitch was, in the first half at least, utterly dominated by the aggression and pace of the midfield five in turn.
Emre Can, with Adam Lallana and Georgino Wijnaldum on either side of him, stepped out of the line to challenge high, force Barcelona backward and win the ball a huge volume of times.
Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho on the flanks did the same, and the challenges and forward motion were replicated down the sides by both full-backs, ensuring Liverpool repeatedly went on the front foot, reacted quicker to exploit spaces and created good chances as a result.
Naturally, being a week ahead of Barcelona in terms of fitness and pre-season work means the Reds should have been sharper, but the movements and repetitions were as impressive and important as the fact they actually paid dividends.
While Liverpool bossed the first half and controlled long spells of the second with defensive positioning, it was the right-hand side of the pitch which repeatedly impressed on the ball.
Nathaniel Clyne fed and overlapped Mane at times when he could, but it was the Senegalese international who stole the show with his direct running, skill and ability to get behind Barca’s defence.
Mane showed all his best traits in this match to take advantage of huge spaces, scoring his first thanks to the composure which had been lacking in earlier pre-season matches and earning a big ovation from the Wembley crowd when he was subbed off later on.
All four of Liverpool’s goals stemmed from either the wing or the channel down the right-hand side, with some excellent combination play featuring Lallana and Mane in the first half, and Jordan Henderson and Lazar Markovic in the second on the counter.
The fourth and final goal saw both those two involved late on, as the skipper won possession with a typically tenacious midfield challenge to set Origi away for the initial chance, which resulted in Marko Grujic heading home Markovic’s chipped cross.
New Boys Gini and Sadio Shine
As far as big-money new signings go, Wijnaldum and Mane didn’t have everybody convinced that they were the best options, but if they fit into Klopp’s system they can, more importantly, be the right options.
Wijnaldum didn’t show the individuality and final-third threat that Mane did during the match, but his contribution was no less important: his harassing, mobility and quick passing into space helped set a platform, alongside Can, for Liverpool to flood forward on a regular basis.
There’s little doubt that, when the Reds overwhelm opponents in the Premier League, Wijnaldum can be a big threat on goal by joining the attack from deep, untracked by the defence, much in the same manner that saw Henderson arrive at the near post for Mascherano’s own goal.
Mane gave big performances like this one for Southampton, but not regularly enough. So now he has the big stage and the demand for consistency, can he showcase why Klopp has tracked him for so long?
He’s done it against Barcelona, but the Reds’ early-season Premier League game against Burnley will be equally important to show up in.
Left-Back Worries Continue
Klopp confirmed after the game in his press conference that the Reds would remain open to new signings up to the end of the transfer window—particularly if injuries forced their hand.
That has to be the worry in defence now, especially on the left after stand-in full-back James Milner failed to see out the first half, suffering a heel injury which the boss admitted will need a scan.
Alberto Moreno is now the only fit and available left-back in the squad without pulling players well out of their natural roles, and a move into the market must surely be a priority before the league kicks off next week.
Time to Get Carried Away?
Barcelona are pretty good, it’s fair to note. But as Klopp himself alluded to in the press conference, this is only pre-season.
Nobody should suggest the Reds are of a standard as the Catalan outfit, nor that they can keep the same intensity for 90 minutes or that the performance was without fault.
Lionel Messi hit the post at 1-0, there were several goal-line blocks and the Reds were extremely clinical—but Barca, aside from being behind in pre-season, had mitigating circumstances of their own too.
The left side of the defence was comprised of young winger Juan Camara, barely on the fringes of the Copa del Rey squad last season, and Jeremy Mathieu—at best a fourth choice at centre-back and a total shambles of a player in the second half of 2015-16.
Much of Liverpool’s best work came down that side, and although it was pleasing to see the ruthlessness of the attack in exposing those players, they aren’t top-tier options.
One friendly remains, and all that matters is the players being fit and ready to put in a worthy performance against Arsenal when the Premier League gets up and running—but in terms of confidence, optimism and fitness, the game at Wembley could hardly have gone any better.
- READ MORE: Liverpool 4-0 Barcelona: Player Ratings