Liverpool’s first game back at Anfield in front of a big number of fans ended in a 1-1 draw against Athletic Club, with plenty of positives and one notable negative.
Liverpool 1-1 Athletic Club
Pre-season friendly, Anfield
Sunday, 8 August 2021
Goals: Jota 12′; Berenguer 53′
Anfield atmosphere returns
A big rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone, a massive cheer as the players emerged and an even more energetic one as the opening goal hit the back of the net.
Of course, the big return wasn’t without its teething issues. Queues of fans around the ground as kick-off’s intended time approached meant a delay of more than half an hour, apparently a result of the new NFC entry system not being able to cope.
An apology was issued and they’ll now have less than 24 hours to rectify the problems.
Once all that was sorted and everybody was inside, though, it was almost like old times.
A few songs broke out, a whole lot of pressing and passages of play were applauded, and everybody got to forget they hadn’t been there for 17 months.
Welcome back, noisy Anfield. We’ve missed you!
Andy Robbo’s injury
The big negative of the occasion was without question the first-half injury to Andy Robertson.
Our left-back went over on his ankle and, although he walked off the pitch afterwards, there’s no use kidding ourselves it was a pretty bad turn – Van Dijk walked off against Everton, remember, and has only just returned after 10 months.
The ankle won’t be anywhere near as bad, it can reasonably be hoped, but ligament damage is no joke, either.
On the marginally brighter side, Owen Beck put in a good shift as sub and Kostas Tsimikas might well have been the Reds’ best performer in pre-season. He’ll finally get his chance now, starting against Norwich on the opening day surely.
Lightning in attack
Some of the Reds’ first-half attacking play was utterly electric, the best part of the day without question.
Mane, Salah and Jota – the latter through the centre – were extremely quick with their passing, always ready to link up by running off each other and quick to search out each others’ movement.
Jota notched the goal after another great piece of Naby Keita pressing, but there were other close calls for further goals with quick switches of passes, low crosses and intent to get in the box.
Mane’s crossfield ball to Salah, and his outside-of-the-boot cross to Jota, would have been the goal of the summer – but for a goalline block.
Elliott ready to seize opening chance?
The front three might have impressed, but the crowd favourite for the 83 minutes he was on the field looked like Harvey Elliott.
Playing as a No. 8 once more, he schemed and roved, dribbled and crossed, and almost lifted a metaphorical roof off Anfield with a second-half turn and curling effort against the woodwork.
Elliott’s work rate was good, his tracking back intelligent and his ability to go on the outside of Salah interesting from a tactical perspective – it’s the right-sided role of attack he played at Blackburn, while also leaving that right-midfield space clear for Trent to drop into a playmaker.
We’ll see if he has done enough to be involved on the opening weekend, but he will surely be in line for game time at some stage on this evidence.
All-change and on to Norwich
With another game to come just one day from now, Osasuna the visitors from Spain this time, there will be a full 11 changes from Jurgen Klopp.
Further game time positives here came in Van Dijk playing over an hour, Trent doing the full 90 and the three Ms looking ready to start the season as needed: Matip, Milner and Mane. It would be a surprise if they weren’t all on the teamsheet against the Canaries.
Against Osasuna, we can expect to see Curtis Jones and Roberto Firmino, Fabinho and Caiomhin Kelleher, Xherdan Shaqiri and the suddenly-vital Tsimikas.
The gauntlet has been somewhat laid down in some of their positions as to the level of sharpness and performance required to nab an opening weekend starting berth – let’s see if the other Reds can step up to the challenge and produce an equally impressive showing.