Liverpool will only have eight players at this summer’s World Cup, which will be a huge bonus for Jurgen Klopp as he plans ahead for 2018/19.
The Reds’ season ended in Kyiv on May 26, but less than three weeks later comes the beginning of the biggest tournament in international football.
Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off the World Cup in Moscow, and Liverpool’s first representative is in action on Friday, with Mohamed Salah part of the Egypt squad taking on Uruguay in Group A.
Simon Mignolet, Dejan Lovren, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, Marko Grujic, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino have also been called up to represent their countries at the tournament.
However, the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Georginio Wijnaldum miss out due to their nations not qualifying, while Loris Karius, Nathaniel Clyne and Divock Origi are among those left out.
With pre-season training set to begin at Melwood on July 2, and Liverpool’s first friendly of the summer coming on July 7, eight days before the end of the World Cup, their availability will be key.
The presence of the Reds’ star names such as Mane, Salah and Firmino, along with the season’s success story Alexander-Arnold, in Russia should be lauded.
It highlights their standing as top-level talents, and in the case of both Alexander-Arnold and Grujic, as two of the biggest young hopes of their respective nations.
But with Salah already heading into the tournament having suffered a shoulder injury against Real Madrid and Firmino having played more minutes (4,188) than any of his outfield countrymen in 2017/18, there are unavoidable concerns over their fitness.
Though Mignolet and Grujic are both likely to leave the club this summer, the prospect of losing one of Klopp’s first-team regulars due to their international endeavours is a troubling one.
This would particularly be the case ahead of pre-season, with the manager stressing its importance as “a base for the whole year” last summer.
“Of course you learn in the season—you fine-tune—but the better the basis you can create, the better the season will be, 100 percent,” he explained.
“I really love the sessions. There should be a 100 percent difference between the first day of pre-season and the last day. We really want to see big, big progress.”
Liverpool Squad Due at Melwood on July 2
Goalkeepers: Karius, Ward, Grabara, Kelleher, Bogdan
Defenders: Van Dijk, Matip, Klavan, Gomez, Masterson, Phillips, Clyne, Robertson, Moreno, Randall
Midfielders: Keita, Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Milner, Lallana, Woodburn, Chirivella, Allan, Jones
Forwards: Sturridge, Origi, Ings, Solanke, Brewster, Awoniyi, Markovic, Wilson, Kent, Ojo, Camacho
The absence of Salah, Mane and Firmino in particular, as the focal point of his attacking system, is a setback, but this remains an opportunity to work with the majority of his squad.
Van Dijk, for example, has still only been at the club for five months, and despite his swift impact on Merseyside can only benefit from a full pre-season under Klopp.
The same can be said for new signings Naby Keita and Fabinho, who both miss the World Cup and could make their first appearance for the club away to Chester FC.
Robertson only began to truly progress midway through the season, so it would not be outlandish to suggest he would improve further heading into next term.
For Karius, his nightmare in Kyiv teed up a fraught off-season that has sparked calls for Klopp to sign a replacement, but pre-season offers both him and Danny Ward another chance to prove their worth.
Clyne, Joel Matip, Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana and Rhian Brewster are all working their way back from long-term injury problems, and the summer gives them an opportunity to do so with less pressure.
And finally, youngsters such as Ben Woodburn, Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho, along with returning loanees like Origi, Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent and Sheyi Ojo, can use pre-season to carve out a role.
Beyond Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson and Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, the majority of players touted with a move to Merseyside this summer will also miss the World Cup.
Jamaal Lascelles was left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad while James Tarkowski missed out due to injury, with Moses Simon also disappointed as a thigh problem saw him omitted by Nigeria.
Like Fabinho and Keita, if they do arrive these players will benefit considerably from adjusting to their surroundings and new team-mates throughout pre-season, as Robertson will attest.
Building a strong base for the upcoming campaign with these domestic friendlies against Chester, Tranmere Rovers, Bury and Blackburn Rovers will be crucial.
The rest of Klopp’s squad will then return for the tour of the United States, where alterations for the season ahead can be fine-tuned having already taken advantage of an early start for most.
Interestingly, the same cannot be said of Liverpool’s rivals, with Arsenal (nine), Chelsea (14), Man City (16), Man United (12) and Tottenham (12) all more heavily represented in Russia.
It is a shame the Reds couldn’t finalise more of their transfer business before Thursday’s kickoff, with the collapse of a deal for France international Nabil Fekir particularly frustrating.
But considerable progress can be made on the training field and in warmup friendlies regardless, with this a worthwhile focus amid the biannual clamour for new faces.
The loss of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain until at least November is arguably the biggest negative, as having arrived at the end of last summer’s transfer window he will miss his second pre-season under Klopp.
With Oxlade-Chamberlain likely to play a big role in the future of Liverpool’s midfield, this is disappointing, but there is still a lot of promise for the Englishman on Merseyside.
The World Cup is a tournament to relish for supporters, but Klopp will instead be savouring the opportunity to work with the core of his squad at Melwood as he bids for silverware in 2018/19.