Liverpool’s pre-season campaign came to an end with a comfortable victory after coming from behind against Blackpool at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
Liverpool 7-2 Blackpool
Pre-season (3), Anfield
5 September, 2020
Goals: Matip 42′, Mane 52′, Firmino 53′, Elliott 69′, Minamino 71′, Origi 85′, Van den Berg 88′; Hamilton 14′, Yates pen 33′
So from a constant 4-3-3, the Reds have ended up closing out pre-season playing 4-2-3-1.
It was the shape used in the second half against Arsenal at Wembley and now throughout this fixture—but there’s certainly an argument that it could be down to available personnel on this occasion.
Klopp could have persisted with the three-man midfield, bringing in Curtis Jones from the start for example, but there was an obvious benefit to getting the impressive Takumi Minamino involved more fully—and more centrally, in this case.
What it does show again is that the boss has options and can keep rival managers guessing as to the midfield shape.
There wasn’t a huge amount of difference: the forwards actually stayed in their usual line of three, with Minamino roving behind in a 4-2-1-3 if we want to get pedantic about matters, but the real point was a double-pivot midfield and seeing how they could cope with their dual job.
It wasn’t particularly pretty in the first half, in truth. The midfield didn’t pass in controlled fashion, didn’t break play up and didn’t have the usual energy and tenacity we’d expect.
But after the break, the same shape dominated with a more technical approach – and probably a rocket or two from Klopp, judging by his touchline comments which were audible in the first 45.
Koumetio promise and patience
Billy Koumetio looks a very decent young defender. He also cost a goal with a moment of indecision and inexperience.
Such is the life of a teenager at the top: you have to acknowledge what they can do, not what they can’t, and accept that errors will occasionally occur which wouldn’t be expected or tolerated from first-teamers.
Koumetio’s passing, with both feet, is really good. His timing and touch of the ball on the move is generally impressive, while defensively he has shown good awareness to come across and make challenges, as well as aerial dominance at times.
Klopp clearly sees plenty in him too, with individual training sessions and pointers this summer, and he might be a player we can look to in the future to step up further.
But at the same time, it’s such a position of fundamental importance – and the spot in the team that the best player in the world for that role currently plays – that it’s a long-term building ploy rather than anything we should expect to see a dozen times this term.
Matip and the fight for fourth
Sticking with the centre-backs, it was a timely return for Joel Matip on Saturday.
With Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk starting at national team level this week, the former Cameroon international was a much-needed senior face at the back.
A goal was a nice way to mark his return, but Klopp will be more pleased with his defensive positional work, a good tackle against a free runner and one or two passes out from the back.
Alongside and around him there’s an intriguing battle on, and a real possibility to be the fourth-choice centre-back after Dejan Lovren‘s departure.
Koumetio started as above, but Sepp van den Berg and Nat Phillips also got 45 minutes apiece.
The latter continues to look assured, solid, communicative – generally decent. He might not be an elite-level defender, and doesn’t have the experience to go with his age, but he’s a serviceable option. He’d probably be fine for a few games if a bid doesn’t come in this summer.
If any of the three youngsters really making a big impression in training, they could earn the chance to feature more than expected, with the Reds not having directly replaced Lovren.
Yes, only pre-season, but still it’s important to see players getting their touch and confidence in the final third.
Minamino played well in general, but it’s particularly pleasing for him to now have netted in successive matches.
Bobby Firmino didn’t score at all in the Premier League at Anfield last season until the final day – now technically he’s scored in back-to-back home matches.
Harvey Elliott and Divock Origi are off the mark, Sadio Mane scored a goal you’d usually think was a ridiculous glitch if it happened against you on FIFA and even a couple of defenders got on the scoresheet.
Most came after Blackpool changes. The sluggish play will have to change when the real action starts, but goals are goals—the seven here should raise confidence and morale at the very least.
Defending (and attacking) the title
So next up it’s Leeds and the real start of 20/21.
There does look, at this stage, quite a lot of variance in fitness and sharpness levels within the squad, and that could be compounded after another batch of international games and travel.
Klopp now has a few key decisions to make: two or three in midfield? Has Minamino shown enough to warrant a surprise start? What about at right-back, where Trent hasn’t featured at all for the Reds this pre-season?
Sharpness in the touch and power in movement are critical at the top end of the league and that will go double against Leeds, given how motivated they’ll be and their style of play.
The next few training sessions have to really count for lots this week – and then we begin to defend one league crown and attack the next.