Liverpool kick off their pre-season on Tuesday with two 30-minute friendlies against FC Wacker Innsbruck and Stuttgart, who provide interesting and varied opposition.
The Reds’ first two games of pre-season both fall on the same day, with Jurgen Klopp set to field the majority of his 32 fit and available players over a pair of 30-minute friendlies.
To be played behind closed doors, the games will provided Klopp with an early insight into the shape of his squad after a long summer break.
With Mainz and Hertha Berlin to come later in pre-season, before two Anfield clashes with Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna, there is an opportunity for Liverpool to gradually build up the intensity over the coming weeks.
So who are Wacker Innsbruck and Stuttgart, and what can the Reds expect?
FC Wacker Innsbruck
Manager: Daniel Bierofka
League: Austrian 2.Liga
2020/21 finish: 4th
Formed in 2002 from the ashes of FC Tirol Innsbruck and the original FC Wacker Innsbruck, Liverpool’s Austrian opposition are based a two-hour drive from the training base at Saalfelden.
Their manager, Daniel Bierofka, is a former Bundesliga winger who enjoyed stints with 1860 Munich, Bayer Leverkusen and Stuttgart, before moving into coaching with 1860.
Though currently playing in 2.Liga, Wacker Innsbruck spent a season in the Austrian top flight in 2018/19, suffering relegation after finishing bottom of the table.
Wacker Innsbruck’s season has already begun, warming up for their 30-minute clash with Liverpool by thrashing SVG Reichenau 8-0 in the first round of the Austrian Cup.
There are no familiar faces in the Wacker Innsbruck squad, but striker Ronivaldo scored 13 goals in 32 games last season and is likely to be one of their main threats.
Midfielder Marco Holz and winger Joao Luiz both netted braces in the win over SVG Reichenau.
In a run of four consecutive seasons in the Austrian Bundesliga from 2010/11 to 2013/14, Wacker Innsbruck found a regular scourge in Sadio Mane.
Mane, making a name for himself at Red Bull Salzburg, scored four goals and laid on two assists in seven meetings, winning five games and drawing the other two.
Naby Keita also came up against Wacker Innsbruck while playing for Salzburg in the Austrian Cup in 2014, while Takumi Minamino teed up the opening goal for Munas Dabbur in a 2-0 victory at the Tivoli-Neu in 2019.
Manager: Pellegrino Matarazzo
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Arena
2020/21 finish: 9th
A more immediately recognisable name, Stuttgart provide a step up in quality of opposition for the second of Liverpool’s 30-minute friendlies.
Now back in the Bundesliga after a season away, Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side finished ninth in the German top flight last term, above both Mainz and Hertha Berlin, who the Reds will also face on tour.
Liverpool have played Stuttgart twice before in their history, but never in a competitive fixture, with their most recent meeting coming in pre-season last year.
Klopp’s side won 3-0 that day in Saalfelden, with Roberto Firmino, Naby Keita and Rhian Brewster scoring the goals, making it 1-1 between the clubs after a 3-2 friendly win for Stuttgart back in 1980.
Stuttgart have already made a host of new signings including goalkeeper Florian Muller, winger Chris Fuhrich and midfielder Naouirou Ahamada, though their key players are likely to remain the same this time around.
Matarazzo can rely on a strong defensive core in centre-backs Marc Oliver Kempf and Waldemar Anton and defensive midfielder Wataru Endo, while young striker Sasa Kalajdzic will be their main source of goals.
There is a strong bond between Liverpool and Stuttgart owing to the relationship of Klopp – a boyhood supporter of the German club – sporting director Sven Mislintat.
Mislintat worked as chief scout at Borussia Dortmund during Klopp’s time as manager, and it was through their connection that the loan deal for Nat Phillips was negotiated in 2019.
Phillips spent the 2019/20 campaign in Baden-Wurttemberg, and is one of seven players to feature for both clubs – including Markus Babbel and Sean Dundee, who were both sold to Stuttgart.