What we’ve learned from Liverpool’s first 4 pre-season friendlies

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Liverpool head for their pre-season tour of the United States having enjoyed a productive, and in ways illuminating, run of four domestic friendlies.

As is customary under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds lined up a series of increasingly challenging clashes with sides in the north-west for July.

This resulted in a 7-0 win over Chester, a 3-2 victory at Tranmere Rovers, a 0-0 draw with Bury and a 2-0 win at Blackburn Rovers; 12 goals scored, two conceded, three clean sheets kept.

Klopp’s side now head across the Atlantic to take part in the International Champions Cup, with Borussia Dortmund, Man City and Man United providing significantly more high-profile opposition.

Though it remains pre-season, with fitness the biggest concern, these friendlies can help the manager shape his side for the campaign ahead—and their initial outings may already have done so.

Here’s what we’ve learned from Liverpool’s opening quartet of friendlies.

 

Karius Needs Time Out of the Spotlight

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - Thursday, July 19, 2018: Liverpool's goalkeeper Loris Karius during a preseason friendly match between Blackburn Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Ewood Park. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s deal to sign Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson serves as a death knell to Loris Karius‘ hopes of retaining the No. 1 role heading into the new season.

But Danny Ward‘s move to Leicester City suggests the 25-year-old could stay on Merseyside as part of Klopp’s squad, which could prompt a shift in the pecking order.

Alisson arrives as bona fide first choice, but without Ward and likely Simon Mignolet, the Reds will be short in terms backup, and Klopp could look to restore Karius’ confidence in-house.

He certainly needs it, as following his disastrous night in Kyiv he has clearly struggled throughout pre-season, with an error-riddled display against League Two side Tranmere.

While Karius will likely never challenge Alisson for his place, taking him out of the spotlight could aid his long-term prospects elsewhere.

 

Van Dijk Will Be Even Better This Season

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - Thursday, July 19, 2018: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk during a preseason friendly match between Blackburn Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Ewood Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The impact Virgil van Dijk had on Klopp’s defence in the second half of last season was immeasurable; a genuine, world-class centre-back who lifted the Reds’ back line up a level.

His influence on the likes of Karius, Dejan Lovren and Andy Robertson was vast, with the assurance and leadership the Dutchman provided invaluable.

Given this came without a pre-season under Klopp, and having played just 12 times for Southampton in the first half of 2017/18 after injury, suggest there is much more to come.

Van Dijk’s first two outings this summer, in the first half against Bury and the second half at Blackburn, vindicate this, and speaking to LFCTV after the latter he joked Klopp’s “hard” pre-season “doesn’t make you worse.”

The prospect of a fully fit Van Dijk, with effectively a full pre-season under his belt, marshalling the Liverpool defence ahead of Alisson is a formidable one.

 

Fabinho & Keita Are Already Key Fixtures

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - Thursday, July 19, 2018: Liverpool's new signing Naby Keita during a preseason friendly match between Blackburn Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Ewood Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The additions of Fabinho and Naby Keita this summer have signalled Klopp’s intention to overhaul his midfield for 2018/19.

Benefiting from a lack of World Cup involvement, the pair arrived ready for the first day of pre-season training, and have both featured in every friendly so far this summer.

Their performances, and particularly together against Blackburn, suggest they are capable of stepping in to take up focal roles in the middle of the park from Liverpool’s season opener at home to West Ham.

With Jordan Henderson‘s request to return early from his post-international break and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ruled out for the entire campaign this could be crucial.

Fabinho patrolling in the No. 6, Keita driving forward and the likes of Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and James Milner being available ensures the Reds’ midfield is already significantly stronger.

 

Klopp’s Faith in Youth is Deserved

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - Thursday, July 19, 2018: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during a preseason friendly match between Blackburn Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Ewood Park. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

With his numbers short towards the end of last season, Klopp drafted in Conor Masterson, Nathaniel Phillips, Curtis Jones and Rafa Camacho from the youth ranks.

Bar Masterson, who is currently sidelined through injury, they have remained part of Klopp’s squad for pre-season and have featured heavily so far.

Whether they play a prominent role in 2018/19 remains to be seen, but the manager’s faith has been rewarded with a clutch of impressive displays so far.

Phillips has been a solid, dependable presence at the back, while Camacho has shone at both right-back and on either flank so far.

Jones’ flexibility and remarkable maturity operating in a variety of midfield roles suggests he has a bright future at Anfield, and it would be no surprise to see him make his first-team debut at just 17.

 

4-2-3-1 Is An Option

CHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, July 7, 2018: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge during a preseason friendly match between Chester FC and Liverpool FC at the Deva Stadium. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Klopp ended the Premier League campaign by fielding a new-look 4-2-3-1 formation, serving as a throwback to his first season on Merseyside as Roberto Firmino took up the No. 10 role behind Dominic Solanke.

With the Reds wearing their new home kit that day at Anfield, this almost served as a vision of the future, and the manager has continued this experiment into pre-season.

Fabinho and Keita are certainly capable of thriving as a midfield pairing, while the pursuit of a versatile attacking midfielder suggests Firmino could be set for further support in attack.

Arguably the biggest positive so far this pre-season has been the performances of Daniel Sturridge, who has scored three and assisted one in four appearances so far, often when fielded behind the striker.

It could be that Sturridge is carving out a new niche within Klopp’s squad, and if the manager plans to persevere with a 4-2-3-1 he could certainly provide an interesting option.

 

Fringe Figures Are Wasting Their Opportunities

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND - Tuesday, July 10, 2018: Liverpool's Divock Origi during a preseason friendly match between Tranmere Rovers FC and Liverpool FC at Prenton Park. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

While Sturridge has been one of the unlikely success stories among Liverpool’s depleted ranks in the summer’s opening four friendlies, other have been decidedly less convincing.

Chiefly, both Solanke and Divock Origi have failed to make their mark in a variety of roles in attack, with neither showing the quality required to establish themselves as backup to Firmino.

A loan move, or in Origi’s case a permanent exit, would benefit the pair this summer, with Ben Woodburn another who requires a spell away.

Though Woodburn has produced some bright moments in midfield, and his new-found physicality suggests he has a long-term future under Klopp, he is sorely in need of regular first-team football.

Elsewhere, Pedro Chirivella and Ryan Kent have done little to assure Klopp of their vitality, and though both have found the back of the net in sharp outings, Sheyi Ojo and Lazar Markovic should also move on.

Klopp is likely to include the majority of his fringe figures in his squad for the US tour, but their involvement beyond August 9 is doubtful.

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