Liverpool produced a mixed showing as they sealed their third victory of pre-season at Blackburn on Thursday, with Naby Keita shining in a 2-0 win.
After a sloppy second-half showing saw Liverpool ship two goals in beating Tranmere 3-2, before a stale goalless draw against Bury, Jurgen Klopp will have been hoping for a step up in quality of his side’s performance against a stronger Championship outfit.
The opening 45 minutes was rather sluggish, before a raft of outfield changes brought about a much-improved second half in which Liverpool eventually ran out comfortable 2-0 victors.
Here are three key talking points from the Reds’ final friendly before their US tour.
Sturridge Seizes His Opportunity Again
Daniel Sturridge has looked razor-sharp in pre-season so far, and while it seemed as though his chances of staying at the club beyond this summer after an injury-ridden loan spell at West Brom were slim, he’s doing everything in his power to prove he can still make a significant contribution for Liverpool this season.
He ought to have scored a hat-trick, missing two excellent chances after latching onto a couple of pinpoint through balls from Keita, showing superb movement despite his rusty finishing.
Sturridge picked the ball up in a deeper area before carving out the opening goal for Lazar Markovic with a well-weighted through ball, before finally getting on the scoresheet himself, slotting a cool finish from close range after more great work by Keita.
As ever with Sturridge, his quality is not in doubt, but it’s whether he can be relied upon to stay fit enough to be useful for Liverpool this season.
Undoubtedly, if he can be available for a significant proportion of games, he’s a fantastic backup option to have and a proven game-changer from the bench.
There’s still a chance he will move on should a decent offer come in this summer, and one which appeals to him.
But if he continues to take his chances in the upcoming pre-season games, Sturridge might yet force his way back into Klopp’s plans for the new season ahead.
Origi and Solanke Fail to Impress
Roberto Firmino is cemented as Liverpool’s first choice No. 9, but it’s highly unclear at this moment who is best placed to be first-choice backup in that role.
Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke were given the chance to play alongside each other in the first half on this occasion, but neither of them made much of a positive impact and were wasteful in possession, failing to hold the ball up effectively or provide much of a goal threat.
Given Sturridge’s impressive pre-season form, along with the arrival of Shaqiri and the highly rated Rhian Brewster still to return from injury after penning a new long-term contract, this pre-season could be crucial for both players to prove they deserve to be a part of the squad, or depart either permanently or on loan.
On this evidence, both will have to perform better if they are to play any significant part for Liverpool this season.
Keita a Cut Above the Rest
Of course, all the usual pre-season caveats apply, but Keita already looks very much at home in this Liverpool side and absolutely ran the show in the second half.
He looks very comfortable slotting into a box-to-box midfield role, drifting into the left channel at times and linking up superbly with the attack.
He was everywhere, winning the ball back through pressing high up the pitch, dribbling past opponents and creating multiple clear-cut chances with his incisive and accurate forward passing, ultimately assisting Sturridge’s goal after stealing possession in the final third.
But in terms of first impressions, he’s made a flying start and is looking every bit worth the wait on the evidence so far.