Liverpool played with swagger and silk as well as with youthful promise, looking sharp in the final friendly ahead of the 2021/22 season.
Liverpool 3 – 1 CA Osasuna
Liverpool: Minamino 14’; Firmino 21’, 41’
CA Osasuna: Kike 70’
Didn’t we just have a friendly? I’m pretty sure we just had a friendly. But we go again.
We had a bit of delay over the new ticketing system yesterday, as well — but hey, a shorter delay today, so that’s an improvement. Despite the hiccups, it truly is wonderful to see (and hear) fans in the stadium again.
Given Andy Robertson’s injury yesterday, all eyes are on Kostas Tsimikas today — we should remember that Robertson himself first got the shirt through injury elsewhere, and he then just never gave it up. Tsimikas has a real chance to show us all what he’s got.
Ibrahima Konaté and Joe Gomez, too, will be getting important minutes here as at least on the fans’ side it’s unclear who will start at the heart of the Liverpool defense against Norwich — and finally this uncertainty is because of depth rather than injuries. We can’t know where each player is in terms of fitness and tactical preparedness, but it certainly is nice to have positive conversations about this position group’s potential makeup in a Premier League match.
Fabinho starts, too, after signing his new long-term contract, and we can expect him to start against Norwich at the weekend; Roberto Firmino will be hoping earn a start ahead of yesterday’s goalscorer, Diogo Jota. Firmino, Curtis Jones, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will have a big ask to progress the ball well through Osuana’s packed midfield. If we struggle in the middle of the park, there’s always the likes of Thiago or Jordan Henderson on the bench…
More than anything, though, the strength apparent in Liverpool’s team today (given that a full squad played yesterday) highlight’s the club’s relative strength compared to previous years.
While the first half started a bit disjointed and compressed when compared to yesterday’s match, within 15 minutes the Reds began to look dangerous — and Minamino’s touch to open the scoring deserved a goal even if the deflection on the finish might make it seem a bit harsh on Osasuna.
After recovering well from the slow start Liverpool played with real impetus, looking to build through the half-spaces on the wings or take advantage of the space behind the defense with vertical through balls. Taki Minamino and Tsimikas worked together well with a clever one-two to set up Roberto Firmino’s first goal — a decisive take that is miles away from his uncertain and unlucky finishes last season.
There were a lot of positives in the first half, not the least being the confidence levels apparent in the squad players. Both Minamino and Tsimikas played like lads who want to give their manager something to think about, and in a lot of positions — including Neco Williams at right back — there was a level of positional awareness that was lacking at times last season, perhaps reflective of the full pre-season that the Reds have had this summer.
While silky and varied attacking play was the headline of the first half — possibly most notably in Firmino’s confident first touch and finish for his second — defensively Liverpool were strong as well, including when responding to individual mistakes. Joe Gomez took a very confident turn out of danger early on after a not-so-great pass from Coaimhin Kelleher could have led to a turnover just outside the Liverpool penalty area; Gomez also had an excellent recovery run to remove a threat created by an errant pass from Tsimikas which could have seen Osasuna through on goal.
Given the number of goals conceded through defensive mistakes early on last season (before we lost most of our defense to injuries, mind), this alertness to and recovery from individual errors is important. That Bobby Firmino is quite simply putting his chances away is also a very, very good sign for things to come this season.
Standouts this half? Firmino, Minamino and Tsimikas.
The second half was perhaps a bit less incisive from Liverpool while still providing quite a good level of quality. Ben Woodburn was a standout early on, adding his name to Kaide Gordon’s on the “players I look forward to seeing in the domestic cups this season” even if it feels like Woodburn has played for Liverpool for abar 30 years now (he’s somehow just 21). Owen Beck’s two cameos here have him added to that list as well; he can half put a ball in, can’t he?
Early on the main drama was the hearts-in-mouths moments whenever Tsimikas took a hard tackle, followed by the relieved sighs every time he was able to get up and carry on. It’s like we’ve been burned by injuries to one position group before…
Midway through the half Thiago was subbed on for Fabinho, a very positive substitution as Thiago had come into Liverpool’s training camp with a slight injury from his time at the Euros with Spain. The welcome sight of Jordan Henderson entering the pitch was an additional positive, even if the skipper came onto the Anfield pitch just after Osasuna managed to peg a goal back through a strong header from Kike García.
The younger squad in the second half did well to make the pitch big in possession, moving the ball fluidly, probing for a promising forward pass even if these passes didn’t quite come off. They will be disappointed to concede, Tsimikas and Rhys Williams could perhaps have done a bit better, though both the ball in from Rubén García and the header itself were very high quality.
While the first half was a pre-season masterclass (would love about 63 games of exactly that please, the Reds), the second half did provide a number of positives as well: a lot of great balls in from wide, decent shape in and out of possession, promise from youth (and solid minutes for some returning senior players). All in all, a useful runout to prepare for the season — which is all you want, really.
The season starts in less than a week somehow. Are you ready? The Reds look ready.
The first half showed the maturity and danger of just one half of Liverpool’s senior squad; the second half perhaps previewed a bit of what we’ll see from the younger Reds in domestic cup competitions. Both positives in their own way.
There’s a level of cohesiveness and sharpness that suggests Liverpool are well and truly raring to go. Yesterday the manager suggested we might see a signing or two before the window closes. What these pre-season matches have shown us is that the club might well be looking toward succession planning rather than to fill any particular gap in the current squad, because these lads look ready.
And this is great news. It means that we can look to the future rather than looking for a stop-gap solution for now. In his rundown from August 3rd, The Anfield Wrap’s Neil Atkinson argued that we should be looking for someone around age 22 who can play 35 of about 55 games should he absolutely have to, but who should really look to play a major role in midfield or attack over the next seven or eight seasons (he breaks down the numbers we need to make up for Gini Wijnaldum’s minutes played and thus the article is truly worth a look).
While there’s a lot of negativity and stress around signings, it’s worth remembering that we are working from a very strong position. Now let’s hope that Michael Edwards finds us another young fella or two who might just become the names we sing for the next five years.
We’re working from one of the strongest positions I’ve seen in my time as a Red. No need to be nervous about who everyone else has bought, as all we have to do is back these fellas in Red to take three points off anyone they face. And I reckon they can just about do that, you know.