Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is not concerned by his defensive options heading into the opening weekend of the season, despite being able to field only one senior centre-back in the 3-1 friendly win over Torino.
With Joe Gomez, Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan all carrying injuries Virgil van Dijk cruised through the first half alongside under-23 defender Nathaniel Philips.
In the second half at Anfield midfielders Fabinho – who missed an early penalty – and Marko Grujic both filled in as Van Dijk only played 45 minutes but Klopp is not worried ahead of Sunday’s visit of West Ham.
“I think (Joe Gomez) is OK. It is nothing serious but it was not possible tonight as he played on Saturday,” said Klopp.
“Dejan (Lovren) is in but he’s not had a long holiday (after the World Cup final).
“For Raggy (Klavan) and Joel it is probably not good enough as they are not fit for the weekend but we don’t need 12 centre-halves.”
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri all made their Anfield debuts for Liverpool with the latter impressing with an assist for Daniel Sturridge to score the third goal after Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum had given the hosts a 2-0 lead.
Alisson was not able to keep a clean sheet after being beaten by Andrea Belotti’s close-range header but his departure late on saw Loris Karius warmly welcomed back to Anfield by fans after his two costly errors in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
It was a moment which pleased Klopp as much as the performance.
“I was not surprised to be honest but as a human being I was hoping for it and I loved it,” he added.
“We showed tonight a really nice face and that helps, not only Loris but the others as well that they see this is a very special place. It was a really big gesture.”
Klopp has not ruled out captain Jordan Henderson featuring on Sunday despite only returning to training at the weekend.
“I am not sure but it is Hendo. In his first session he looked like he trained the whole three weeks completely,” said the Reds boss.
“He was in a really good shape so we thought a few minutes tonight would be possible.
“He is a very important option but I have no clue what we will do at the weekend.
“Hendo needs a pre-season but not as much as the others as he has not had long off.”
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It’s been a busy pre-season off and on the field for Liverpool.
We take a look at the winners and losers.
More often than not Liverpool’s Sporting Director Michael Edwards is working behind the scenes, but so successful has been the Red’s transfer business this pre-season that the 39-year-old has been thrust into the lime-light.
Edwards was appointed to this newly-created role back in November 2016.
Owners Fenway Sports Group had wanted a sporting director in place as early as 2012 but Brendan Rodgers’ arrival as manager saw the plans scrapped until Jurgen Klopp took over in 2015.
The German worked with a similar structure successfully while at Borussia Dortmund.
Edwards is believed to have played a big role in bringing Fabinho, Naby Keita, Alisson and Xherdan Shaqiri to the club with the only black mark the non-arrival of Nabil Fekir.
But all in a fantastic summer for the former Peterborough video analyst.
Just when everyone was getting ready to put a line through the striker, the 28-year-old has been re-born with some outstanding performances in pre-season and a re-discovered positive attitude.
He has immediately struck up an excellent understanding with new arrivals Shaqiri and Keita both playing the role of scorer and provider.
Liverpool fans were disappointed when Nabil Fekir did not arrive over the summer but Sturridge in current form could well slot into that No10 role as well as provide excellent back up for the front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane.
The only question mark is can the injury prone front man stay fit – if he can the Sturridge 2.0 could be a huge boost in 2018/19.
Little was known about the 17-year-old Scouser prior to the summer but along with Sturridge he has been a clear pre-season winner.
The tall, elegant mid-fielder has impressed all with his performances in Liverpool’s pre-season campaign, whether it was against Chester at the humble Deva Stadium or Manchester United in front over 100,000 in Detroit.
His calm and composed performance in the 5-0 hammering of Napoli was the icing on the cake.
A talented midfield player with an eye for a pass and a keen eye for goal, versatility is one of of his many attributes as he can play anywhere across middle.
So good has Jones been that he will be fighting for a spot on the bench for the first team right from the start of the season.
The England-man is a popular figure at Liverpool, known for his tireless work-rate and his touches in front of goal.
But with the arrival of so much talent over the summer it’s hard seeing the 30-year-old play much part this season.
Lallana was already stretched to be pushing for a starting spot but now with the arrival of Keita and Shaqiri and the re-birth of Sturridge and emergence of Jones, Lallana could easily be squeezed out of the match day squad entirely.
Looking at the Liverpool midfield options, they are probably headlined by Keita, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum at season start with the returning Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Shaqiri and Jones as ready back up.
This leaves Lallana on the outer and possibly looking for a new club come January.
The young German (non-)stopper is much discussed by Reds fans – with equal measures of derision and support.
He surprisingly found himself elevated ahead of the more experienced Simon Mignolet last season and a few good performances were then un-done by his horror evening in the Champions League final, where his two glaring errors were the difference between the teams.
Since then he has issued a teary apology to fans, recorded an odd promotional video while on holiday in LA and shown he is still well and truly afflicted by the goal-keeping yips after gifting a goal to lowly Tranmere.
Whether it was that moment that forced Liverpool’s hand to finally bring in another keeper or the arrival of Alisson was due to a confluence of other factors is yet to be revealed.
But either way the Brazilian’s arrival – and impressive debut against Napoli – show that the 25-year-old has already settled in well on Merseyside.
Karius is now well and truly consigned to a bench role with only the League Cup to look forward to or perhaps he may even be on the move sooner rather than later.
Klopp gave him every chance but enough is enough.
It has been 28 long years since the Reds won the top division in English football – back then the Premier League didn’t even exist.
But with Liverpool’s impressive run last year and the strengthening exactly where it needed to happen – in goal, defence and midfield – you would have to say Liverpool are ready for a title challenge.
They beat Manchester City (2-1), Manchester United (4-1) and absolutely destroyed Napoli (5-0) in pre-season and played some fast paced, highly skilled football.
Apart from Henderson and Dejan Lovren the whole squad will be ready to go from day one of the opening season and new arrivals Keita, Fabinho, Shaqiri and Alisson are desperate to make their mark.
However, this is Liverpool and something could still go spectacularly wrong but at this point in time they look best placed to threaten Manchester City for the title.
Spurs have done nothing in the transfer market and have been hit hardest by the World Cup, United are in a Jose Mourinho inflicted doldrums and Chelsea and Arsenal are re-building with new coaches.
This leaves Klopp’s Reds the strongest challenger to Pep’s sky blues.
No more excuses – this year Liverpool must give it a real go.
The Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid closed one memorable chapter for Liverpool.
But instead of closing the book, the ink remains wet.
Jurgen Klopp is ready to pen a new narrative and the club’s summer has actually been defined by their use of fresh ink with key members of the squad and essential additions signing on the dotted line.
Naturally, the theme of pre-season has been one of optimism and the performances have only worked to swell that feeling.
Could this be actually be their year? To best gain a barometer of what to expect from the Reds this season, we examine how the summer has unfolded for Klopp and his side.
W 5-0 Napoli
W 4-1 Man United
W 2-1 Man City
L 3-1 Borussia Dortmund
W 2-0 Blackburn Rovers
D 0-0 Bury
W 3-2 Tranmere Rovers
W 7-0 Chester FC
Excuses from the big six for failing to challenge this season will be formed around World Cup 2018 exertions.
Liverpool, however, have no such mitigating circumstance. Indeed, the core of the side has remained intact with only Dejan Lovren and Jordan Henderson requiring extended breaks after their efforts in Russia.
Klopp, who values hours on the training pitch like a currency, has crucially even been able to work with his new recruits for most of the summer.
Fabinho and Naby Keita were there from July 2, while Xherdan Shaqiri joined for the back end of the United States Tour. Alisson even managed minutes against Napoli, and so as expected the Reds have looked strong.
The first four fixtures were glorified training sessions against much-weaker opposition but in the US, aside from the second-half blip against Borussia Dortmund, they’ve looked sharp and slick.
Liverpool cut United and Napoli apart on the counter and the high tempo-high press style has remained at the forefront. Granted, Napoli are much earlier in their prep but the manner in which the Reds ripped through the Italians has indicated what may lay ahead.
Key ins: Naby Keita – Leipzig, £52.75m; Fabinho – Monaco, £43.7m; Xherdan Shaqiri – Stoke, £13.5m; Alisson Becker – Roma, £67m
Key outs: Emre Can – Juventus, free; Jon Flanagan – Rangers, free; Danny Ward – Leicester, £12.5m; Ben Woodburn – Sheffield United, loan
Locked and loaded with the target marked, Liverpool are more expensively equipped than the Expendables and Klopp requires a box-office hit to avoid a flop this season.
The German has tried his best to blanket the expectations but having spent close to £200m over the summer, the big investment simply has to yield a vast payoff.
Liverpool overachieved in reaching the Europa League final in 2016 and did so again to meet Madrid in May, but they will fall well short of expectations if a chasm like the 25-point gap to league champions City appears in 2018/19.
Their weakest points last season have become areas of strength. In midfield, Keita has already shown in pre-season he has the capacity to be one of the finest all-action players around.
Fabinho solves a long-standing issue in the No6 slot, while offering tactical flexibility. Shaqiri has been impressive in a free role against United and Napoli, so could be set to operate as a No10 or in support to the widemen.
Then there is Alisson. The most expensive goalkeeper in the world provided a statement beyond the numbers and if the Brazilian fulfills his potential, it’s hard to find fault in this Liverpool squad. The question now is whether the cracks will appear when the pressure is on.
OPTIONS IN RESERVE
Teams win games, squads win trophies. Liverpool’s validity as title challengers will be assessed by the strength of the collective rather than the individual, and a grinning Klopp can smile wider after the performances of some reserve players in pre-season.
Daniel Sturridge is the standout. The 28-year-old has clawed his way back into the picture having looked destined to leave thanks to a series of impressive displays. Crucially, he appears physically fit and mentally more at peace.
His link up with Keita and Shaqiri hallmarked Liverpool’s preparations and he could be of service in the spearhead, out wide or even in a deeper role this season.
Add Sturridge’s reemergence to exhibited qualities of enterprise, class and coolness from Alberto Moreno, James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum respectively and the Reds bench appears strong.
PRIMED AND PREPPED
The race can’t be won in 2018, but Liverpool have put themselves in a great spot to make a flying start to the campaign.
The schedule has been designed to ensure the Red machine arrives for the opening day against West Ham with the engine running and revving.
They have progressively upped the gears throughout pre-season and Klopp will have taken note of City’s head start last season. The champions only dropped points twice, two draws, until defeat against Liverpool in January and the impact of the World Cup will be far more damaging for rivals City, Tottenham and Man United.
West Ham, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Leicester City are Liverpool’s fixtures before the first international break and so they have the platform to lay down an early marker.
INABILITY TO SIGN A NO10
Liverpool supporters have been spoiled this summer, so you find it difficult to forgive those who crticise the club’s transfer business.
However, replacing Philippe Coutinho for the No10 slot was considered a necessity and the fact Klopp was so close to bringing in Lyon’s Nabil Fekir for the position, points to its significance.
Liverpool score goals but they are far from evenly spread with only the departed Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino scoring more than five league goals last season. In the 2016/17 campaign, twice as many broke the mark.
Shaqiri could step up, Keita may even operate closer to the front three but Liverpool need another creative and dynamic outlet in the attacking third this season and it remains to be seen whether that role has been filled.
DEFENCE IS STILL CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Record deals for a defender and goalkeeper would make you believe Liverpool’s defensive deficiencies have been resolved.
Yet there were some excruciating moments in pre-season, particularly against Dortmund, when they have looked fallible.
Virgil Van Dijk is of course a tower of strength and perhaps with Loris Karius finally dislodged those issues will disappear. The German was in wretched form throughout the summer and looks set to leave, so Alisson’s arrival does calm things down considerably.
But you can’t help but wonder if Klopp will pay for his trust in Lovren and to an extent Joe Gomez.
Van Dijk needs stability alongside him and Lovren has good games, but also bad, while Gomez’s injury history is a worry.
Granted, this is being incredibly picky but don’t be surprised if we’re talking about Liverpool’s defence this season.
Liverpool have been given a fresh lick of paint, have had all key components functioning together and then on the pitch have shifted through the gears.
As far as pre-season preparations go, with the context of this one being on the back of a World Cup, it’s hard to imagine how this could have gone any better for Klopp.
The hard work hasn’t started yet, though.