Liverpool fell to a 3-1 defeat to Borussia Dortmund on Sunday, but Alex Malone reflected on a positive afternoon for the Reds and their supporters in Charlotte.
Alex Malone in Charlotte, North Carolina
After the games played against lower-league opposition on home soil, Liverpool arrived in the US to step up the challenge ahead of the new Premier League season.
I was lucky enough to make it to the game in person, so here are a few observations about the occasion, the US support, my thoughts on the game and that man Jurgen Klopp.
Liverpool Fans Are Everywhere
No matter where you ventured in the vibrant city of Charlotte over the last 24 hours, you honestly could go no more than about 25 yards before seeing another cluster of Liverpool fans.
The Epicentre, the downtown area of Charlotte, is a high-energy, high-octane nightclub area with pubs and clubs galore.
I decided to wander around to take in the atmosphere the night before the game. It’s no exaggeration to say that every pub and club was jam-packed with Reds.
Crown Paints, Carlsberg, Standard Chartered, retro kits, red, white, yellow, purple, green and orange kits. Gerrard still adorning many of them; Salah even more. I even spotted a couple of Coutinhos.
The Liverpool crowd is as diverse as it is possible to be. Every race, colour and creed was on show, all together, bonding, laughing, singing as one big happy Liverpool FC family; fans from all over the globe.
I spoke to Brazilians, Australians, Africans, Iranians, Asians among many, many others; each of them as passionate about this club as you or I. It was a joy to behold. Genuinely.
As I walked past Dortmund fans in my ageing Carlsberg shirt, they high-fived me and wished me luck for tomorrow. I even wished it back. I didn’t mean it.
The American Experience
It’s just different in America. Their stadiums, often close to 100 years newer than the likes of Anfield, are like something from a science-fiction movie.
They’re impressively modern, exceptionally clean and very welcoming. You get a sense of grandiose as you approach, such is the scale.
They don’t have roofs in these parts because it rarely rains, and as such it’s tough to generate the kind of atmosphere you get in stadiums back home.
The Liverpool fans, however, congregated behind Loris Karius‘ goal in the first half did their utmost. The rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone was the highlight, sung in conjunction with the Dortmund fans.
You always get the US national anthem played before every sports game in America, with whoever is singing it trying their damnedest to outdo the last person who sang it.
We all stood for it. It’s expected. It’s a tradition; unless you’re a 2018 NFL player.
Dortmund, of course, happen to have the best young American player of his generation in Christian Pulisic. As such there were a multitude of young American kids proudly walking with their mums and dads in their bright yellow Dortmund shirts.
The US men’s team may be in a bad place at the moment, but Pulisic is a genuine superstar in these parts. More on him later…
The Superstars and the Fringe Players
This game told us little we didn’t already know, and maybe confirmed some things we really didn’t want to know.
Daniel Sturridge’s introduction in the second half made us realise what we’d been missing in the first.
All of last season’s other first-choice players were solid, if unspectacular.
On the flip side, what might have Jurgen concerned were the performances of the fringe players. I’m not talking about the young kids just breaking through, such as Curtis Jones, who was excellent.
I mean those who have already been given several chances to impress over a season or two.
Divock Origi did little to suggest he has progressed whatsoever in the last two seasons. In fact, I would opine that he has regressed. He offered, literally, next to nothing.
His goalscoring record is now reaching critical levels. One goal in 27 Liverpool appearances just isn’t good enough. His inability to impact a game seems more evident with each appearance.
Origi and Solanke are light-years away from the quality of Sturridge.
I might be being a little harsh on the very young Woodburn, but he has been overtaken in terms of performance by Jones. Gomez meanwhile, has seemingly plateaued.
Joel Matip is posing Klopp an altogether different problem; availability. An excellent defender on his day, but those days are fewer and further between.
His consistency of performance tailed off dramatically throughout last season, before yet another injury had him back on the treatment table.
Matip has missed 36 games in the last two seasons and hobbled off again on Sunday.
The question is, will we ever see the player we once had such high hopes for? One who is consistently excellent and injury free? It’s doubtful, and as such a real dilemma for the manager.
For all our excellent dealings in the transfer window, we are still very, very light when it comes to top-quality, available central defenders.
Well, we saw with our own eyes what this kid can do. He was the difference between 1-1 and 3-1 to Dortmund.
He offers skill, technique and showed his finishing ability. He’s young, energetic and a mere 19 years of age.
He looks every inch a ‘Klopp’ player. He was Man of the Match, but was banned from winning it because of Heineken sponsoring the award…he’s not of legal drinking age here!
So, how about we sign him? A win-win; he gets to play for the mighty Reds, we get a potential superstar and he gets to grab a pint after training.
Jurgen Klopp – What a Man!
I watched Jurgen’s antics on the touchline. Honestly, it was almost as entertaining as the game. If the rule about the technical areas being breached was enforced, he’d have been sent to the stands about 25 times.
At one point the fourth official had to usher him back to his technical area because he’d pretty much wandered all the way to Dortmund’s (and there’s quite a distance between them!).
A friendly? Not in his mind. Watching him it looked like this game mattered as much as any other.
He offered valuable insight in his post-match press conference in that Matip “had too much pain to continue and we will know more in two to three days,” and Sturridge (who was down for a couple of minutes) is not injured.
He was confused by a journalist’s question regarding where Keita would play (“do you have any suggestions?”) and made the American press happy by saying some nice things about Pulisic (while reminding them they need 11 players, not one).
Post-interview, Klopp came out alone and walked through the media/staff area, smiling, joking and laughing with anyone and everyone. He even stopped to give an ad-hoc interview to one guy with a $10 microphone who couldn’t believe his luck.
Before making his way to the Liverpool team bus, he stopped for two different families who each asked him could they have a photo with their kids. Of course, he obliged.
A great manager, a great man, and we are very, very lucky to have him.
So, quite the day! We might have lost, but we did so with many of the big guns rested, many of the fringe players being assessed against a big club, and many of the new signings genuinely impressing.
Next…I’m off to New Jersey. It’s the small matter of Man City.