Liverpool are only two weeks from their first pre-season game of 2017, and it won’t be long before the players start arriving back at the club. Some, though, are already half way there, at least in their heads, thinking about the upcoming season and what it will take to build on the successes of 2016-17.
“The offseason is always a funny one,” noted vice captain James Milner, who is expected to keep his job as Jürgen Klopp’s first choice left back following his move to the position last year. “You enjoy yourself and relax, but you’ve always got one eye on pre-season and making sure you’re right and ready to go again.”
This time around, being ready to go quickly is even more important than in most seasons for Liverpool, with a two-legged Champions League qualifier on the horizon. Lose in their opening Premier League match and the club will have 37 more rounds to make it up. Lose that first qualifier and it gets a lot harder.
After a month of pre-season action, kicking off on the 12th of July against Tranmere and ending on the 5th of August against Athletic Bilbao, Liverpool’s Premier League campaign kicks off against Watford on the 12th of August. Then, on the 15th or 16th, they play the first leg of their Champions League qualifier.
Then comes Crystal Palace and Arsenal in the league and, sandwiched between the two, the second qualifying leg for Europe’s top cup competition, a competition Liverpool spent all of last season to get to—and a competition that they aren’t fully in yet, not until they pass that final qualifying hurdle.
“Obviously it’s a big start to the season for us,” added the versatile veteran. “Pre-season is always tough, nobody particularly enjoys it. But with the tours and the [Champions League] qualifier we want to hit the ground running and start the season well. So it’s important you’re ready to go.
“It’s not easy to get into the qualifiers even—top four in the Premier League is tough. We’ve done part of the job, but we have to finish that now. We’re improving all the time as a team and you can see that over the last couple of years since the manager has come in. We’re moving in the right direction.”