Liverpool started their 2020/21 season with a draw…technically, although a 1-1 scoreline ended in another penalty defeat to Arsenal in the Community Shield.
The Reds have only had a couple of pre-season friendlies, but those two and this game could be it for a warmup to the campaign, unless anything is scheduled at short notice for the players who don’t head off on international duty.
That made this game at Wembley an important one in terms of rhythm and fitness—as well as the small matter of a piece of silverware on offer, no matter how inconsequential to the upcoming campaign it is seen.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang netted a brilliant opener for Arsenal, but the Reds dominated the second half and Takumi Minamino scored his first goal for the club to equalise and send the match to penalties.
It’s not all plain-sailing for Neco
If the game against Brighton at the end of last season offered a hint that Neco Williams couldn’t just come in and be at the elite level every time, this was a reminder of the same at the start of the new campaign.
With no Trent Alexander-Arnold at full fitness, the young Welshman was given another opportunity to impress.
It’s important he gets these games to keep learning and progressing, but it’s equally as important that he can be relied upon in more meaningful matches.
Here, he was certainly culpable for the opener, allowing Aubameyang inside to shoot easily, but there were a couple of other instances with Virgil van Dijk having to issue instructions too: standing the wrong side of a man at a throw-in, tucking in too much when play was switched.
It will come with game time, with training, with repetitions.
But for him to regularly get minutes and even stay ahead of Ki-Jana Hoever in the order of preference for the position, he has to show reliability consistently—there’s so much at stake.
Predictability and tempo
It was all rather one-dimensional for the Reds in the first half.
The left-flank crosses looked the Reds’ best bet of a goal, but there were too few runs across the face of goal and too few players willing to take a quick touch and move the ball on, rather playing slowly and in front of the Arsenal defence.
Thankfully, Liverpool were far better in the second half.
Whether it was a talking-to at the break, the old habit resurfacing of simply refusing to lose or the fact the Reds had an extra game under their belt compared to the Gunners, they largely dominated the second 45.
But it was also notable that the passing was crisper, the movement more inventive and the moves ending more often in shots, which were sorely missing before the break.
It was a pair of subs on the hour mark which saw the Reds really step up, and it coincided with a change of shape from Jurgen Klopp.
There was certainly far better pressing after this switch, as well as more direct running and passing through midfield—none of James Milner, Fabinho or Wijnaldum had really made any attempt to break the lines in the first half, on or off the ball.
It’s not really about the tactics on the day. The match doesn’t really matter and this could be nothing more than experimentation.
But it was perhaps an insight as to how Klopp intends to juggle the squad, produce cover in different positions and utilise his squad rather more this term, particularly at the start with not everyone fully fit.
Taki joins the party
Minamino is a goalscorer! Taki had expressed his sadness that he didn’t contribute directly to the title win, saying he wanted either an assist or a goal registered last season.
Well, he didn’t get that, but he has started this term in the best possible way.
His performances in pre-season were encouraging, and here again, his touch in buildup and link play was strong, he appeared well in the penalty box when the Reds were on top and, of course, he scored.
He flicked the ball on to Salah initially and when it bounced back his way, his finish was unerring—first time, composed and giving the ‘keeper no chance.
We need goals from the support act. We didn’t really have that last season, not on a regular enough basis. If he and Curtis Jones can perhaps add a few each this term, it’s another step forward for the team.
Nice penalties from both of those, too.
Countdown is on
So the season proper is next…after the small matter of a stupidly timed international break.
Liverpool will hope for a blend of minutes and game time—and absolutely no knocks whatsoever—to those who are heading off around the continent.
Confidence and fitness are all we want from these matches, as well as safe returns without the need for quarantine for two weeks afterwards.
Then it’s preparing for Leeds, who will be massively up for the game on their return to the big time, which should also be the first game of many where the opposition step up their performances even more just because they’re playing the champions.
Get ready, Liverpool—we want another year to remember.