After what seems like an eternity, the Reds are back in action. The first game of the 2018 pre-season was played away to Chester FC, with the misfortune of clashing in terms of kick-off time with England’s World Cup quarterfinal against Sweden, which the Three Lions won by 2-0.
As we’re used to seeing in these early off-season games, manager Jurgen Klopp prepared two completely different line-ups for each half.
The First Half
Loris Karius was in goal. Young Nathaniel Phillips and Joe Gomez played in the heart of defence, flanked by Nathaniel Clyne on the right and Alberto Moreno on the left. The midfield was comprised of Liverpool’s newest signing Fabinho as the anchor joined by Ben Woodburn and Curtis Jones in the more advanced roles, while Harry Wilson joined Dominic Solanke and Divock Origi in attack.
The current situation surrounding Liverpool’s No.1 shirt was never likely to gain any clarification from this game and so it turned out. Karius was completely unchallenged, with Gomez and Phillips easily dealing with anything that came their way. Clyne and Moreno (it’s hard to imagine now that these two were once Liverpool’s undisputed starting fullbacks) both looked lively up and down the flanks, especially up as they were hardly ever needed at the back. A game like this suits them perfectly. Clyne was bursting down the right side at will, but his crossing was understandably rusty throughout. Moreno, who wore the captain’s armband, combined extremely well with Jones on the left side of midfield as they both showed real spark and flair in their game.
Woodburn on the other hand seemed perhaps too quiet for a game like this. Liverpool’s youngest goalscorer ever was perhaps disappointed with hardly playing at all last season, but this was no way to prove Klopp’s selections from the campaign wrong. He will do well to get on the ball more in the upcoming fixtures.
Up front, Solanke and Origi both showed excellent movement off the ball and very good link-up play, but it seems they will need improve their focus, especially inside the box.
Everyone will have their own views on this, but Harry Wilson was probably the Man of the Half. The 21-year-old former Hull loanee kept running in behind, running down channels, and gave a free lesson in finishing to both Origi and Solanke. He capped off a great performance with two superbly cool goals to set the half-time score.
The Second Half
After the break, Danny Ward had replaced Karius, Phillips initially retained his place but soon made way for Pedro Chirivella, Ragnar Klavan came on for Gomez, Rafael Camacho for Clyne, Andy Robertson for Moreno, James Milner for Fabinho, Naby Keita made his long-awaited debut coming on for Jones, Ryan Kent played instead of Woodburn, Sheyi Ojo replaced Wilson, while Daniel Sturridge and Danny Ings replaced Origi and Solanke.
It’s hard to say whether it was due to some half-time talk from Klopp at this point, but the team came into the second half with a lot more energy. They pressed Chester from the first second all over the pitch and before too long they had turned a 0-2 lead into a 0-5 one.
It was initially surprising to see young Camacho, an attacking player, play as a right-back, but given the fact that Chester simply aren’t a team that can cause any danger to Liverpool, it quickly started making sense.
Ward was about as tested as Karius, and when the home side did get over the halfway line it was mostly the experienced Klavan who stepped up to sort it out well away from the goal. As was the case with Clyne and Moreno in the fist half, so now Camacho and Robertson bombed up the flanks and took more part in attack that in defending. Milner and Keita pressed Chester players in the middle of the park and constantly kept things ticking for the Reds.
As for the goals, the third was scored by Milner from the penalty spot after Ojo was brought down in the box, then Sturridge pounced on a Keita interception to make it four, and then Kent hammered one in from 20 yards with a superb strike into the far corner. Milner’s backward flick allowed Ings to score the sixth from a great chance, before Sturridge set the final score with a typical Sturridge shot from outside the box.
It’s way too early to make any judgement on individual performances, but it’s perhaps worth giving a special mention to Wilson, Moreno, Keita, Milner and Sturridge.
It seems like a million-year wait, but we finally got to see Fabinho and Keita play for Liverpool. As for the Brazilian, his first-half display wasn’t exactly of the highest standard apart from a terrific low shot that bounced outwards off the inside of the post, but it is, naturally, completely understandable.
Keita, however, was a different story. The former RB Leipzig man looked like he had been properly preparing for his Anfield switch for the whole year since the deal was concluded last summer. Extremely intelligent in pressing, fine-tuned to sense insecurity in an opponent on the ball, or just pounce and take advantage of his focus perhaps being shifted too soon to picking out a pass. He elegantly won possession numerous times and his smart positioning often enabled Milner to push forward.
A “Klopp player” if there ever was one.