Liverpool kick-off their pre-season against Tranmere and Wigan this week, and there are a number of things to look out for.
After a summer break that has felt like an eternity – due mainly to no major international tournament and the same transfer rumours regurgitated every day – the Reds are back.
Jurgen Klopp‘s side kick-off their pre-season schedule with a short trip to the Wirral to face Tranmere Rovers on Wednesday, before taking on Wigan Athletic on Friday night.
It is a good opportunity for certain fringe players to prove their worth to the team, while new faces will try and impress for the first time in a Liverpool shirt.
Ahead of this week’s pair of matches, there will be a number of things to keep an eye out for, as the Reds try and go into the new season in perfect shape.
Has Jordan Henderson recovered from injury?
After such a strong run of form prior to Christmas last season, in a newly-adopted deep-lying midfield role, the injury curse once again struck Jordan Henderson.
The Liverpool captain’s last appearance of the campaign came in the 2-0 win at home to Tottenham in February, with a supposed bruised foot turning into a season-ending problem.
There are now genuine concerns about Henderson’s long-term future, with the England international not managing 30 appearances in each of the last two seasons, in all competitions.
With the fight for regular game time in midfield set to be fierce in 2017/18, Henderson needs to enjoy a productive pre-season, with no sign of injury holding him back.
With Emre Can unlikely to feature prominently in August, due to a late, post-Confederations Cup summer holiday, the skipper can make the defensive midfield his own again, as long as he stays fit.
How will Mohamed Salah start life as a Red?
It’s fair to say that there have been plenty of grumbles about Liverpool’s transfer dealings so far this summer, but Mohamed Salah has signed on the dotted line.
The Egyptian looks a very exciting buy and fans are keen to see how he performs.
Sadio Mane made an immediate impact this time last year, and if Salah’s pace and all-round quality are on show in equal measure this week, the level of excitement will only grow.
He is expected to make his Reds bow in one of the two matches – hopefully we will witness the birth of Liverpool’s next great wide player.
What might be most interesting is where he plays; whether on the right or left of the front three.
Update: Unfortunately, Salah will NOT be involved due to visa delays. A shame.
Will Sadio Mane feature?
Few Liverpool players have enjoyed a more eye-catching debut season than Mane, with the Senegalese a revelation after joining from Southampton.
The Reds’ Player of the Year was a huge loss through injury and international commitments, though, and his season ended at home to Everton on April Fools’ Day.
Fortunately, Mane has made a successful recovery from knee surgery, but it unlikely to feature this week.
A more likely return for Mane is in the Asia Cup next week.
Will the youngsters be given a chance to shine?
Klopp’s preference to blood young players is admirable, and last season saw a number of them become household names at Anfield.
Trent Alexander-Arnold looks a star of the future who could thrive also in the present, but Ben Woodburn, Harry Wilson and Ovie Ejaria also have great potential, and new signing Dominic Solanke should make his Liverpool bow.
Pre-season always provides the opportunity for youngsters to prove their potential, and this week should be no different, especially with a number of first-team players arriving back later due to international commitments.
Woodburn really shone last summer, with a number of excellent performances turning Klopp’s head, and other young players should use the Welshman as inspiration this time around.
A midfield role for Trent Alexander-Arnold?
Alexander-Arnold is a footballer of enormous promise, and one of the most exciting youngsters to emerge from Liverpool’s academy in years.
Although used predominantly as a right-back for the first-team to date, it is common knowledge that the teenager can also thrive in the centre of midfield.
His athleticism and technical ability make him someone who could be formidable in that area of the pitch – there have been some, albeit bold, comparisons made with Steven Gerrard – and it would be great to see him deployed there in the coming days.
If he stars in midfield during the summer, Klopp is the type of manager who will not hesitate in giving him a chance there in the Premier League.
It’s unlikely, but would be very, very interesting if he does get some minutes in midfield.
Which goalkeeper will impress early on?
Simon Mignolet may have ended 2016/17 in impressive form, but Klopp has made it clear that he is yet to decide who his first-choice goalkeeper will be next season.
All three could get some playing time this week, and they will be aware that an impressive start to the summer will only stand them in good stead.
It will be particularly interesting to see how Ward fares, after such a good season for newly-promoted Huddersfield Town. There is no reason why can’t show Klopp that he is good enough to usurp his more experienced teammates.
Any sign of new formations?
Despite invariably going with the 4-3-3 formation last season, and 4-2-3-1 the year before, Klopp has made it clear that he will look at new systems in 2017/18.
“I’m not sure which way we have to play next year, there will be a few different ones”, he said, prior to his squad returning for pre-season training.
The approaching couple of matches could give the Liverpool manager a chance to try out a few new formations, with certain players potentially trialled in unfamiliar positions.
It is impossible to read Klopp’s mind – many try, but fail miserably on a daily basis – and he is sure to have a number of alternative systems up his sleeve ahead of the new campaign.