Little time seems to have passed since the disappointing end to the last campaign, but today Liverpool returned to action in a pre-season friendly against Tranmere Rovers. This could hardly be called a significant fixture, but it provided a good opportunity to see some of the new signings and academy prospects in action; the result was always secondary in this match, but Liverpool will be pleased to have come away with a 1-0 victory.
Jurgen Klopp elected to play two entirely different teams in each half. The first half gave us our first glimpse of new signings Loris Karius, Joel Matip and Sadio Mane: Karius had absolutely nothing of note to do, but Matip and Mane were both involved. The Cameroon centre back made a couple of errors towards the start of the match, but that can hopefully be attributed purely to nerves. He settled a little as the half progressed, and showed off some impressive distribution – both he and Lovren played some excellent balls out from the back, allowing for good transition from one end of the pitch to the other. One such pass from Lovren found Mane, who had made a bursting run into the box endemic of his lively performance; the Senegalese international beat the onrushing keeper to the ball then unleashed an audacious scoop shot from an extremely tight angle, only narrowly missing out on an exquisite first goal. In fact, the newest addition from Southampton was probably the half’s best performer – in addition to his intelligent off-the-ball movement, he also impressed with his direct runs and clever turns. One such turn, where he allowed the ball to run between his legs before swivelling and sprinting away from his man, resulted in a chance that forced a fine save from the Tranmere goalkeeper. His link-up play with Firmino was also encouraging: Firmino was playing as a striker in this game, something he will likely not be doing regularly over the course of the season, but their understanding was nevertheless a positive sign.
A couple of the youth players also seized the chance to impress in the first half. Ejaria, playing as an attacking midfielder, was one of the lesser-known youngsters on the team sheet – he put in an excellent performance, showing a wide range of qualities. His passing was generally excellent, he put pressure on the Tranmere defence with some powerful, direct runs and he even tracked back admirably: many Liverpool fans will now be keeping a close watch on his development. In contrast, Brannagan is one of the most high-profile young talents at the club – Barcelona have reportedly shown interest in signing him to their youth setup, and it was clear in this game why he has attracted such attention. His levels of composure on the ball are remarkable for such a young player. He pulled the strings from a slightly deeper midfield role, and barely put a pass wrong all game – he also showed quick feet to beat a man on a couple of occasions. The only real negatives from the half were the lack of goals (although this cannot really be read into at all in a pre-season match) and a close call from a set piece, where a Tranmere man was able to find space and directed his header on to the post. Hopefully this persistent set-piece vulnerability gets addressed before the season gets properly underway.
The second half saw changes all round: two of the most notable introductions were Danny Ings, only recently back from a serious injury that kept him out for much of last season, and Lazar Markovic, who spent the last year out on loan at Fenerbache. Both players are still very young, and whilst some fans have written them off others are intrigued to see what part they could play in Klopp’s plans for the upcoming season. Markovic didn’t do his cause much good with his performance – seemingly functioning fairly central rather than in his natural right wing position, he struggled to influence the game. More worryingly, he missed two very good chances: the first was ballooned over the bar from about 12 yards out, and the second struck the post with the goal gaping. The latter miss was frankly criminal, and in any competitive game would be nigh-on unforgivable. However, the Serbian did begin to impress in the latter stages: he began to drift over to the right on occasion, and from here he was effective. One particular delivery for Danny Ings was inch-perfect: the striker nearly gave it the finish it deserved, firing just wide with an acrobatic bicycle kick. Ings did eventually get his goal a few minutes later – Trent Alexander Arnold went on a lovely run before finding Ings, who controlled the ball excellently before lashing it into the net. Although he will have a tough time getting minutes ahead of Sturridge and Origi, it is certainly nice to have Ings back fit as an option: his pace, finishing and work rate make him a very useful player in any side, but particularly under Klopp.
The Ings goal secured the win, but more important was the fairly high level of performance in both halves. Liverpool always looked in control, and impressed with their quick, accurate passing under pressure. They were expected to dominate, of course, but that does not detract from the fact that they were able to completely dictate the game – new signings and youngsters alike put in performances that gave the fans reason to be optimistic for the future. It is foolish to read too much into pre-season games, but it is certainly fair to say that there were promising signs. If nothing else, it was great to see Liverpool back in action again: here’s to many more wins in the coming season.