Liverpool 1 - 3 Borussia Dortmund
Liverpool: Van Dijk 25’
Borussia Dortmund: Pulisic 66’(Pen.), 89’, Bruun Larsen 90+3’
At first blush, that was not great, Bob. Liverpool found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline in their first foray into this year’s International Champions Cup, courtesy of two goals from next American President Christian Pulisic and a garbage time finishing touch from Jacob Bruun Larsen. Still, there were some bright spots and perhaps a few important lessons re-learned along the way.
Jürgen Klopp’s squad started this match having only just landed in the United States and grabbed a cup of coffee the day before. As has been the case for a number of these friendlies, most of the Reds’ XI that started the match was not expected to run out for the second half. For the first half, Klopp named a side that featured a close-to-full-strength group just in front of Loris Karius, with Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson, Joël Matip, and Fabinho all taking the field.
Up front, it was a different matter. From the opening whistle, Lazar Markovic showed more verve and aggression than Liverpool supporters are likely used to seeing from him, almost forcing a crucial interception in the Dortmund third, but still he and Divock Origi struggled to make much of an impact, with the latter still looking woefully out of sync. Behind them, Adam Lallana got another opportunity to stake a claim on an important midfield role.
In the early minutes, Karius nearly did an unfortunate Ederson imitation as he rushed out of the box to make a clearance, only to send the ball directly to Maximilian Phillipp, who, thankfully for Liverpool fans, was not able to match Mohamed Salah’s effort in that match against Manchester City. It was not a good sign for Karius, and sadly, that would not be the only moment when you might be left wondering whether the keeper can put the Champions League nightmare behind him.
Once the opposition started to settle, Mahmoud Dahoud showed good passing range against a high Liverpool back line and his midfield partner Sahin had time to pick out teammates. Elsewhere, Phillip continued to take up good positions and had a couple of chances to test Karius from range, while Jadon Sancho was eager to take on defenders. For the moment, Dortmund was eluding Liverpool’s pressing reasonably comfortably.
There was more bad news for Liverpool early when Matip indicated a thigh problem and had to come off after just 18 minutes, to be replaced by Joe Gomez. This is potentially a headache for Klopp with Lovren not scheduled to rejoin the squad soon. In the nightmare scenario where something happens to Van Dijk, Liverpool might be looking at a pretty scary centerback situation.
Still, there was plenty of quality on the field for the moment. Robertson picked up where he left off last season, pinging in a number of dangerous cross from various positions on the left, and combining well with youngster Curtis Jones, who also acquitted himself well during the first half with a lively, aggressive, and intelligent performance. It was from Robertson that the opening goal came, Van Dijk rising virtually unchallenged to power a free header past a helpless Marwin Hitz. Advantage Reds.
It would stay that way for the rest of the half, despite Dortmund’s attempts to catch Liverpool on the break - though nothing really to concern the imperious Van Dijk and the unruffled Fabinho. With the restart, a more attacking side was called to action, with Naby Keïta, Daniel Sturridge, Ben Woodburn, Dominic Solanke and Sheyi Ojo appearing, while Ragnar Klavan took the spot alongside Gomez at the back.
It’s been apparent during the preseason thus far that Keïta adds an element that Liverpool sorely lacked last season, and the Naby Show continued today. When in possession, Dortmund struggled to play the ball out against Keïta and the omnipresent, ageless James Milner. Keïta’s greatest trick so far, however, has been to conjure up glimpses of the 2013-14 Sturridge, and the striker looked revitalized once again today, despite dropping deep for long spells.
There were some gilt-edged opportunities, mostly fashioned from Keïta’s brilliance in the final third. Solanke was able to outjump his marker on a corner, but just couldn’t direct the ball on target. Milner was invited to shoot from range and his curling effort was not far off the mark. Ojo got himself into an excellent position on a counterattack with just the keeper to beat, but Hitz was able to pose just enough of an obstruction for the ball to bounce off the woodwork.
Then came the sucker punch. Pulisic, growing into the match with each blunted Liverpool attack, skipped past Moreno on the right, waltzing into the box, where a change of direction just took him into a stationary Klavan. The referee decided to blow the whistle, and Pulisic was able to convert the spot kick to level the score.
Liverpool still had chances to seize the advantage. Solanke struck an audacious pass with the outside of his foot from the right, the ball landing just a hair too far in front of Moreno, who could only direct it towards the keeper. Keïta again almost fashioned a chance out of nothing by dancing past defenders on the left and lashing the ball towards the middle, with none of his teammates in a position to profit.
In the 89th minute, Dortmund strung together a counterattack where everything just went right. Schmelzer did the running on the left after some neat work from Lucien Favre’s crew, and the fullback found Pulisic in the middle in plenty of space. The shot was threaded between tow defenders and past Karius.
There was time for a third. Dortmund, breaking at speed again, teed Pulisic up for a hat trick after the American did well to create space for himself, dancing through defenders on the right. Karius parried, but poorly, and only towards a lurking Bruun Larsen, who had an easy chance to grab his side’s third.
Once some of the familiar faces such as Salah, Mané, and Firmino return, one senses Liverpool will show more teeth up front, but Matip’s injury highlights the minimal room for mishap at the back. For Karius, there will be few more sympathetic crowds than this one today, and the brief lapses in concentration will be worrying. One hopes that the young German keeper can get through this rocky period, but Simon Mignolet may yet have a part to play for this squad.