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Liverpool 3, Athletic Bilbao 1: Chomping At The Bit

The Reds close out preseason with a solid win over Bilbao in Dublin; Firmino converts a PK in the first half while goals from Woodburn and Solanke finish the job late

Liverpool v Athletic Club - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Liverpool 3 Firmino (PK) 21’, Woodburn 59’, Solanke 80’

Athletic Bilbao 1 Williams 30’

All due respect for Bilbao— I just wanted this game to be over.

Or, rather, I wanted preseason to be over. I’m ready for the real season. I hunger for it. I want the roar of a crowd that knows there are stakes. I want early morning alarms on my phone and Jon Champion’s terse contextualizing and dumb arguments with Chelsea fans on Twitter.

Again, all due respect for Bilbao, but this is simply not enough for me anymore.

But we’ve got to do one more of these, and all things considered, a good run out with a La Liga team in Ireland is a decent way to close out the prologue for the campaign.

If you’ve followed preseason so far, you know the pattern by now. An overall pace that’s fairly mellow but one that ramps up slowly and steadily as the game goes on. At least, relative to the opening minutes, which tend to resemble an early morning jog. When the goal is to make sure as many of the guys as possible get a good run out, it’s hard to judge individual mistakes or conceding stupid goals too harshly.

The important thing is Liverpool looked good. For the most part.

First halves have been generally slow for the Reds in preseason. As often as not they tend not to score. Liverpool got lucky today early on with a penalty awarded in the 20th minute, converted dutifully by Roberto Firmino.

But there’s another aspect to preseason which frequently goes unappreciated— it exposes your weaknesses before it really starts to cost you. For Liverpool, that weakness is in defense— still, still— and, increasingly, central midfield. It’s this exact that allowed Iñaki Williams to stroll into the box and hit his equalizer like it was nothing. Like he was running to the corner store to get milk. That’s how easy it was for this Liverpool team, the same team that will have to contest a Champions League qualifier in less than a fortnight, to surrender the lead and all their momentum heading into halftime.

If there’s one persistent frustration with this team, it’s this. It’s how hard they have to work to get ahead, and how easy it is to piss it all away.

The second half, mercifully, was much better for the Reds. Sharper passing, better organization, a stronger sense of urgency. And it showed where it counts (to the extent that things “count” in preseason). Ben Woodburn restored the lead for Liverpool just before the hour mark with a lovely strike from just inside the box. Dominic Solanke finished Bilbao off ten minutes from time with a powerful header.

You can’t read too much into any preseason game, but we can read a little more into this than we could with, say, Tranmere last month. There are still some key decisions to be made ahead of the season opener at Watford next week— namely, at left-back and at central midfield. Hopefully, Liverpool can also make one or two more moves in the transfer window.

But for the most part, this is the squad. This is who we’ve got, absent some new deal or a late rally for VVD. This is who we’re going to be counting on to keep us in the Top Four in the Premier League and to, at the very least, make us proud in Europe. If you liked what you saw against Bilbao, you’re going to be heading into Watford with some measure of optimism. If you were given pause, then the next week is going to be worrisome for you.

However things end up shaking out, I’m just anxious to get started already. I’m tired of previews and speculation and rumors and innuendo. And I’m really, truly done with preseason. Let’s just play some bloody football already.

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