Wigan Athletic 0
Liverpool 2 Ings 70', Woodburn 74'
Liverpool looked to maintain their perfect preseason record at the DW Stadium, and maintain it they did, coming away with a 2-0 victory over Wigan Athletic. Danny Ings and Ben Woodburn got the goals for the visitors in the second half, while Liverpool recorded a third successive clean sheet.
For the first half, Jürgen Klopp opted for experience up front and youthful promise in midfield, appointing Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho with responsibility for troubling Wigan's back four, while Cameron Brannagan, Ovie Ejaria and Kevin Stewart shared duties in midfield. The likely opening day central defensive pairing of Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren made an appearance, bookended by Connor Randall and Jon Flanagan. Marko Grujic stayed at home, having been sidelined by illness.
Wigan also started a changed side, having played host to Manchester United and José Mourinho just a day ago, and losing by a similar scoreline. For Liverpool supporters, this would be the first sighting of Coutinho in a competitive match for the club since leaving for international duty.
Coutinho did not disappoint, showing good movement to elude the attentions of Wigan defenders who seemed particularly bothered by Firmino, and hitting the woodwork twice within the first fifteen minutes. Mané, deployed on the left in prior appearances, ceded that spot to Coutinho for this match, but continued to distress defenders with his speed and directness.
Wigan had clearly identified the youthful midfield as an area of opportunity, and there were several challenges that walked a fine line between robust and cynical during the first half. To their credit, Brannagan and Ejaria did well to shrug off the bullying. Brannagan showed that he is capable of set piece deliveries as least as good as Liverpool were accustomed to last season, while Ejaria displayed an eye for the pass plus good composure on the ball.
Still, with modest experience in midfield, Liverpool's buildup play was cautious without being ponderous. Despite ample possession, clear openings against a tightly packed and well organized Wigan defence were few and far between - a phenomenon to which Liverpool have grown accustomed, if not comfortable, in recent times.
On the half hour mark, Loris Karius, no doubt bored out of his mind, decided to allow a back pass to roll tantalizingly under his foot, and at full stretch was just able to recover and palm the ball away from a lurking Wigan forward. Somewhere, Simon Mignolet nodded approvingly.
As the contest entered the final fifteen minutes of the first half, Liverpool's front three drew back slightly, inviting Wigan to come forward after spending much of the half ensconced just outside their own box. And come forward Wigan did, finding avenues past the Liverpool midfield, but never really troubling Lovren or Matip. Matip, for his part, showed flashes of great mobility coupled with strength. Those qualities will be needed early in the season.
There was still time in the first half for one more bit of magic from Coutinho. On the end of an Ejaria pass, the Brazilian surged past one Wigan defender, pirouetted past another, before finding Mané, whose shot was just about smothered by a scrambling rearguard action.
When action resumed in the second half, Klopp had brought on eight new faces, including Andre Wisdom and Tiago Ilori at the back, with Ryan Kent and Ben Woodburn making reappearances, while Ings was tasked with being the pointy end of the spear. Only Karius, Matip and Randall continued from the first half.
Call it brashness, or call it naiveté, but there was a noticeable uptick in directness from the youthful contingent called upon to start the second half, particularly Kent and Woodburn. Coupled with Ings' willingness to be Liverpool's man for all seasons, Wigan were on the back foot for the early phases of the half. Ings was on both giving and receiving ends of through balls early on, and only a poor offside decision on one and a slightly wooden first touch on the other defused the danger for the hosts. Elsewhere, Lazar Markovic labored to find space, taking decent positions, but was clearly not on the same wavelength as some of his teammates.
In the 68th minute, the first signs of a breakthrough appeared. Matip was allowed to saunter almost the length of the pitch, and his layoff for Markovic, who in turned found Kent arriving on the left, resulted in a shot that was barely wide. The deadlock was ultimately broken in the 70th minute. Markovic played the role of provider, and Ings took the pass well before bundling past the keeper. One senses a healthy Ings will be invaluable for Liverpool this season.
Less than five minutes later, the kids decided to get in on the action. Superb work from Ryan Kent allowed him to turn past one marker before finding Woodburn in space, and the sixteen year-old showed great composure to finish and give Liverpool a two-goal lead. Despite his youth, Kent at times has a spatial awareness rivaling, perhaps even exceeding, that of his more experienced colleagues. Never one to overhype, even Klopp was forced to acknowledge, after the match, the potential of some his younger charges. Much more work lies ahead, but Liverpool supporters may be forgiven for daring to dream just a little.