Liverpool finished up their preseason preparations yesterday with a somewhat impromptu friendly against Blackpool while the entire starting defense was off on international duty. It was a short preseason overall, with just three friendlies and the Community Shield match before competitive play in the Premier League resumes next weekend. While short in duration, we can still take a look and see if there are any nuggets about the upcoming season to be gleaned.
Preseason is a wondrous time where fringe players and youth players get the opportunity to catch the eye of the manager and the fans alike. Of course, these players have everything to gain, while the established players are more worried about match fitness for the upcoming season. We really shouldn’t read too far into preseason superstars (Andriy Voronin anyone?), but it can still give us a glimpse of who may be in line for a bigger role this season.
The Japanese forward was stellar in all three preseason friendlies. After joining Liverpool this past January from Red Bull Salzburg, it was expected it would take him some time to get settled and comfortable with the elevated level of competition and physicality in the Premier League. Minamino showed glimpses at the end of last season of the flair, technical prowess, and work rate that had fans so excited about him. He kept the momentum going, and absolutely shown this preseason. He scored a scrappy goal against Arsenal, and then followed up with a cool, collected finish against Blackpool. Minamino was all over the field, tracking back to recover balls, moving into pockets of space to receive a ball, and spinning defenders with his tight turns before playing gorgeous through balls to attackers running behind the defense. His ability to work in tight spaces seems like a good weapon to unlock packed-in defenses. He seems ready to be the first attacking option off the bench at the expense of Divock Origi.
Look, we all know what Naby Keita offers on the field at this point. The biggest issue has been keeping him on the field. He has finally completed a full (abbreviated) preseason with the team, and seems ready to become a regular starter in the next evolution of the Liverpool midfield. Keita calmly controlled the game any time he was on the field, gliding around to press, recover, and then distribute the ball. He also showed some nice offensive output, scoring a stunning goal against Stuttgart, and also hit the post a time or two.
The young Scouser just might be the player I am the most excited about. The homegrown product was given an opportunity to start in the first preseason game in a very first-team lineup, and he didn’t just look like he belonged, he was a stand out. Jones combines driving runs with tricky feet in tight spaces to get the ball into good attacking spaces. His passing range surprised me, he hit some beautiful crossfield diagonals. Honestly, what impressed me the most was his work off the ball. Several times he started plays from deep in his own half, and then burst forward 60-70 yards to get into the opposition box. He also has an edge around his game similar to Jordan Henderson. He is not afraid to mix it up and stuck in on the defensive side. He is also starting to grow into his frame, and has the size to survive in the rugged Premier League. Jones seems ready to compete with the likes of James Milner for minutes off the bench.
The youngster just catches the eye anytime he gets the ball at his feet. He has a great low center of gravity that he couples with insane short area quickness to beat players on the dribble. Auden mentioned he plays like a lefty Eden Hazard, and it definitely tracks. His vision belies his tender age, seemingly hitting a pass without even looking, but it always drops on a dime. The weight of his passes is are just delicious. His biggest draw back to this point has been his end product. The youngster finally got his first Liverpool goal against Blackpool. Elliott also seems fully committed to the mental side of the game, showing maturity on and off the field that is years ahead of his age. He still seems a good year away from pushing to be a regular on the bench, but if he continues to progress at such a quick rate, he could be in contention for minutes sooner rather than later. Thinking about a right side with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones, and Harvey Elliott just sent a shiver of excitement down my spine.
Very Large Bill. Bill the Bookcase. Billiam. No matter what you call him, he is a large lad for the tender age of 17. Koumetio came out of nowhere to impress with his calm demeanor, ability to stroke the ball around with both feet, and good athleticism for someone so tall. He is still quite raw, and is a ways away from being in contention for the first team. He still needs to work on reading the game ahead of him defensively, and needs to be quicker with his decision making as we saw yesterday. He is not ready to be the 4th center back on the senior team, but could see some minutes in cup matches. Regardless, he is one that Liverpool fans will keep an eye on for the future.
Who Missed Out
The diminutive Swiss attacker spent the majority of last season with a series of mysterious injuries. While there was a lot of speculation heading into the offseason that Shaqiri may be on the way out, he seemed determined to stay and push himself into contention for more minutes. Well, preseason matches started, and Shaqiri was out with an injury again. It seems unlikely that he will be involved in anything more than cup competitions again as a Liverpool player, if at all.
Again, preseason is a time to tweak and try new things. Outside of his first year, Jurgen Klopp has been married to the 4-3-3, though there have been plenty of wrinkles thrown in. This preseason, we saw a decent smattering of a 4-2-3-1 and even some time in a 4-2-2-2. The 4-2-3-1 seemed to make sense on paper, especially with Trent Alexander-Arnold missing, but it never really seemed to work out. It tended to be static and plodding, with the middle of the field getting congested. The 4-2-2-2, on the other hand, just seemed to WORK. It was fairly free form, with Naby Keita and Curtis Jones making runs from deep. It also allowed Takumi Minamino and Roberto Firmino to roam and combine. It also created space for the fullbacks to get up the field, which is a staple of the Liverpool attack. Of course, this formation showed up in the second half of preseason games, but it does seem like a potential option if Mohamed Salah and/or Sadio Mane are out.
Who was your preseason stand out? Who were you most disappointed by? Do you see Liverpool mixing it up tactically this upcoming season?