Liverpool are currently set for two pre-season friendly fixtures while over in Austria, with the Reds facing promoted German side Stuttgart first on Saturday.
VfB Stuttgart vs. Liverpool
Saturday 22 August, 2020 — 5pm (BST)
Pre-season Friendly (1)
Well, it’s over: 25 days since our last fixture and that’s the off-season done with and pre-season training already begun.
Now it’s time for the first match back.
For our first game in the new season as reigning Premier League champions, the Reds face newly promoted Bundesliga side Stuttgart.
That there are games to enjoy at all at this stage is a surprise and even these are still surrounded by an element of doubt, given the Reds are overseas in Austria which has been added to the UK’s quarantine list.
Liverpool will, however, apply for exemption from the rules as the squad continue to undergo regular testing.
While the club medical staff, administration staff and planning coordinators deal with all that background noise, for Jurgen Klopp and his players it’s now all about preparing for the new campaign and getting up to speed on the pitch.
As the boss has said, we’re not defending a title this year, we’re attacking a whole new set of them—and it all starts against Stuttgart.
Stuttgart back in the big time
A top-flight team for 39 straight seasons until 2016/17, Stuttgart have recently bounced between the first and second tiers in German football.
Last year it was the more positive version: a second-place finish in the 2.Bundesliga, earning them automatic promotion back to the big time just one year after being relegated.
Other than the second division title in 2017, the last time Stuttgart managed real success was in 2007, when they won the Bundesliga and finished as runners-up in the DFB-Pokal.
This summer, as well as facing the Reds, Stuttgart are taking part in the Helden Cup against Hamburg and Arminia Bielefeld, with Feyenoord the fourth team involved.
However, two further planned games against Mainz and Marseille had to be called off, with one confirmed and one suspected coronavirus case among the squads of each of those opponents.
There’s of course an element of rebuilding work to be done after they found a way up this year, but also reason for optimism after some of the early transfer dealings.
One player they’ve lost from last season we’re familiar with: Nat Phillips spent the season at VfB on loan but is now back with the Reds, while ex-Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua was there too until January.
Iconic German striker Mario Gomez played a role in their promotion, retiring this summer, while there’s also an expectation that last year’s top scorer, Nicolas Gonzalez, may be sold to raise funds.
One slightly surprising move from the squad sees former Bayern Munich defender Holger Badstuber being told that he’ll only be with the U21s this season, a decision made for “sporting reasons” and the player accepting the demotion.
Stuttgart have loaned in Arsenal defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, signed Japanese midfielder Wataru Endo, gone big on Waldemar Anton in defence from Hannover and landed highly rated and sought-after Stoke City 16-year-old forward Mohamed Sankoh.
Did you know?
Liverpool have sold players to Stuttgart more times than we’ve played them.
We’ve only ever faced VfB once, in a friendly in 1980, but we’ve sold players to them twice: Sean Dundee and Markus Babbel.
There’s no question in the manager’s mind as to the value of this pair of friendlies the Reds will play overseas.
Add in the Community Shield against Arsenal back at Wembley and that’s effectively three pre-season games to get up to our regular match fitness levels and performance levels—usually we’d play seven or eight.
Klopp says the games are vital, then, for tactical planning and facing good opposition.
“From a sports point of view, it’s important for us obviously after the mini-break to find our feet as quick as possible, if you want.
“Training looks really, really good in the moment – this is actually what we expected, the boys didn’t lose a lot from the physical abilities.
“So now [we] are in the middle of the preparation, all the tactical stuff already. So it looks really good in the moment and the two opponents are really good opponents, so that will be really tough.
“The agency who helped us with organisation came up immediately with Stuttgart and said they are in the area so maybe we can make a game there. Then they were happy, we are very happy, so that’s good, first and foremost.
“We are here in the wider Salzburg area, so on the way home pretty much, if you want, we play them.”
Reds hoping to impact
It’s not the usual, but it is still pre-season, so two different teams could be expected for this first game.
Aside from getting the regulars up to speed as fast as possible, there will be a few younger or fringe players hoping to impress.
They include Neco Williams and Curtis Jones, both looking for increased game time and responsibility this season, but also the likes of Billy Koumetio and Sepp van den Berg, young defenders who hope to make an impression this summer to avoid the boss thinking he needs to find a quick replacement for Dejan Lovren.
There’s a decision to make over the third-choice goalkeeper and we’ll want to see players stepping up with goalscoring to add to the usual front three’s brilliance, with an eye most definitely on Rhian Brewster.
For Takumi Minamino, this is a vital month or so; he wants to earn a more regular spot in the team, score his first Reds goal and show he can be the fourth starting forward we’ve been seeking.
It all starts again from this moment; so let’s see if 2020/21 can begin as positively as 2019/20 ended.