Fresh off the back of a stellar 2018/19, Liverpool are gearing up for a campaign which promises to be their toughest yet – they face the task of defending their European crown and bridging the smaller-than-ever gap between themselves and Premier League champions Manchester City.
With much of the first-team established – not the least the front three, who have cemented themselves as one of the best strike forces in Europe – pre-season presents Jurgen Klopp with the opportunity to explore some different formations and give valuable minutes to the youngsters.
While it is easy to dismiss the months leading up to the Premier League’s opening game and the match results therein as inconsequential, there are some big things to take away from the Reds’ preparations…
Origi scored some crucial goals for Liverpool last season – his last-minute headers against Everton and Newcastle spring to mind, although none more so important than the smart finish versus Barcelona to see the Reds through to the final in Europe against all odds.
The Belgian has continued in this clinical vein in pre-season, scoring a technically-brilliant goal in the 6-0 stomping of Tranmere Rovers and showing good reactions to fire home just before half-time in a surprisingly fiery encounter with Sevilla. He also scored against Sporting too.
With a powerful number 9 not essential to Liverpool’s style of play, it’s vital that Origi takes his opportunities when he’s afforded them and he’s hardly disappointed.
If the 24-year-old can continue popping up in the right areas then Roberto Firmino will be watching over his shoulder in the 2019/20 season.
Rhian Brewster has shone in pre-season. Before their match with Sporting, according to WyScout, he’s chalked up four goals and an assist, taken on 5 shots and created 4 chances, while also impressing with his link-up play, vision and maturity that belies his years.
The 19-year-old played Ryan Kent, who won the penalty which James Milner would convert, in behind and showed glimpses of a dangerous partnership with Harry Wilson – that’s certainly one to watch in the coming years.
Brewster has 15 goals and 13 assists in 36 appearances for Liverpool’s development sides (Under-18’s to Under-23’s), according to Transfermarkt and he’s shown exactly what he can do given consistent chances in the first-team. One might expect him to feature in Klopp’s plans this season.
Having missed 49 games through injury since April 2018, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s return to fitness should feel like a new signing to the Anfield faithful – the Englishman was a revelation in a central role following his switch from Arsenal, impressing with his direct running and pace, both of which were a huge asset in Klopp’s high-pressing system.
The 25-year-old has hit the ground running in pre-season, getting 328 minutes under his belt, in which he has completed 9 dribbles, 3 progressive runs and 10 interceptions according to Wyscout.
He’s stood out from the likes of Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum, who had the two 8 roles locked down the second-half of last season.
If the Ox can keep up this form heading into the Premier League 2019/20 opener against newly-promoted Norwich, Klopp has a real selection headache ahead of him.
Permitting that the Brazilian can evade injury throughout the season, there will be no ousting Alisson from the Liverpool starting XI – there’s nothing that Simon Mignolet can do about it, although nobody told the former Sunderland shot-stopper.
The Belgian started the second-half against Sevilla and made a solid double-save having hardly had time to don the gloves and, despite the presence of new Los Hispalenses signing and Dutch giant Luuk de Jong, dealt well with balls into the box.
Considering Julen Lopetegui’s side were seemingly intent on turning the ‘friendly’ into a cup final, with Ever Banega, Diego Carlos and Joris Gnagnon all guilty of dirty play – the latter of whom was sent off for a horror tackle on youngster Yasser Larouci – Mignolet did well to cope with the tie’s physical demands.
Should the 31-year-old be required for any reason, he’s shown that he can still be an able deputy.
Trent Alexander-Arnold offers something that very few full-backs in Europe can – the England international is one of the best crosses of the ball around and this saw him chalk up an incredible 17 goal contributions in 40 appearances across all competitions last term.
This kind of output is difficult to replace but, fortunately for Klopp, there is a string of capable back-ups ready to slot in at right-back should the 20-year-old star suffer any injuries in what promises to be a busy campaign.
Joe Gomez’s return to action should see the versatile defender slot in alongside the immovable Virgil van Dijk at centre-back, although he is equally capable of playing on the right of a four-man defence. Nathaniel Clyne and impressive youngster Ki-Jana Hoever, who stunned with his pace and maturity on the ball against Bradford, are also available.
The 17-year-old starlet is thought of very highly at Anfield and is already promising to make a big splash in the coming years.