Apparently it used to be a game against the bin men from whatever Eurpoean resort Shankly had taken the players to. Now it’s big business — Far East tours, a schedule eating up 21,743 miles and every match televised. Because of the latter it is easy to get carried away with what you see, and the wider meaning. Beat Dortmund 4-0 and it’s Champions League Final here we come. Draw 1-1 with Yer Da FC and it’s “Rodgers Out” tweets to John Henry in between the demands to sign Reus.
We promise ourselves that we won’t read too much into what we see. But then we always do. Cynicism aside though, pre-season matches do hold some interest and potentially offer some clues into next season (only 26 days away…) if we look hard enough, and ignore the bullet headers from Dejan Lovren. Here are five things I’m looking out for. If I remember when the games are on.
Brendan loves them. We’ve seen more formation changes than the red arrows in his three years in charge. Experimentation and the simple need to get all the lads on the pitch at some point will probably mean we will see a few more over the next couple of weeks. But you would hope that the manager has a clear formation he would like to start the season with in mind, and that we play this more often than not in these glorified kickabouts. I’m guessing a 4-3-3 with a three at the back dabble. But don’t hold me to that.
2. CENTRAL DEFENCE
Interestingly, we haven’t been linked with any centre backs. So bar the arrival of young Joe Gomez and the return of Tiago Ilori from loan it suggests that we are going to stick with what we have for next season at least. Who starts away at Stoke feels somewhat up in the air though. You’d expect Martin Skrtel to get the nod after being largely ever present last year and recently signing a new deal, but alongside him? Mamadou Sakho was the most reliable defender last season, but he has suffered injury problems and you still get the impression the manager isn’t totally convinced.
Maybe Dejan Lovren then? He makes supporters break out in cold sweats, but Liverpool may feel the need to give him another chance after spending so much on him (£20m if you needed reminding). There has been no suggestion of cutting losses on the Croat, and surely there is a defender in there somewhere? Rodgers seems to think so.
Outside of those there are rumours of a straight shoot out (not literally I hope) between Gomez and Tiago Illori over which one stays with the squad next season and which one goes out on loan. Ilori hasn’t joined up with the squad yet after playing in the European Under-21 Championships so advantage Gomez maybe. And people call these games meaningless. Or maybe Kolo Toure will emerge from the shadows and recapture his swashbuckling start to the 2013-14 season? It’s all to play for at centre half.
3. CENTRAL MIDFIELD
James Milner feels the key here. He can play in a number of positions but has apparently been promised a central midfield role. You would expect Jordan Henderson to play more often than not, seeing as he has just been made captain, so where does that leave us? Should we expect to see them getting forward with a holding midfielder like Lucas behind them, or in a deeper two behind three attacking midfielders? Or perhaps they’ll simply man the fort together in a good old fashioned 4-4-2? Unfortunately we’ll have to wait a while longer for Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho — given extended breaks after their summer exertions — but the clues could be there earlier than that.
4. INGS AND ORIGI
You sense the new strike duo are much more highly regarded within the club than among the fanbase, some of whom seem to have written them off already. With the absence of Daniel Sturridge through injury and A N Other striker not signed yet (it’s Benteke isn’t it?) it is a chance for Ings and Origi to turn a few heads and get people taking about their abilities. I sense the key to either of them making an impact this season may be their versatility. It will be interesting to see how both lead the line and also whether we get a look at them wider in a 4-3-3 or even 4-2-3-1. A wide forward who can graft, create and weigh in with goals could be a vital asset for the Reds this season, especially off the bench.
5. THE KIDS
The squad is supplemented, well, OK bulked out, with plenty of youngsters, some of whom have seen some first team action — Jordan Rossiter and Harry Wilson — and some who haven’t: Dan Cleary, Joe Maguire, Pedro Chirivella and Sheyi Ojo. It is, of course, a fantastic opportunity for these players to be around the first team and experience first hand what a huge football club they play for. For supporters it is interesting to see how players rise to the occasion (of sorts). Which ones try to stamp their authority on the games, and which ones let the game pass them by. Two years ago on this tour Jordon Ibe was mightily impressive and now he is being talked about as a man who can fill the gap left by the departure of Raheem Sterling. Who will take their chance this time?
So there you go. Reasons for intrigue if little else. Also shout outs to having a first look at Nathaniel Clyne and everyone trying to work out if Lazar Markovic is actually any good. Bring on the footie.
– Liverpool take on Thai Allstars in Bangkok at 2pm today. The game is live on LFCtv.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda Photo