ON the rare occasions that my dad and I discuss international football he always talks about Brazil. You see, according to my old fella, when Brazil were at the height of their success in the past they would lose virtually every friendly they played in the build-up to a major tournament. Then, when it came to the important matches, they would turn on the style and win games easily.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never bothered to do any actual research into the veracity of my dad’s claims. Looking at their tournament victories, however, he may have a point. They’ve won the World Cup five times, which is the tournament record, and they’ve also won the Confederations Cup more than any other side. I’m guessing it must have helped that they had Pele for a while, like.
My dad’s point is that when they played their friendly games the Brazilians of the past didn’t care about winning. What they wanted to do was learn. The manager wanted to learn about the players he had at his disposal and the different systems he could play. He wanted to learn about the depth of his squad and the youth players coming through the system. The players themselves learnt about each other. What sort of run does your striker make? Does your defensive partner like to push forward or does he prefer to play on the back foot?
Dad and I talk about Brazil in relation to England rather than Liverpool, of course. With both the team and the national media’s obsession with trying to read into results against Germany or Argentina in matches that couldn’t matter less causing all sorts of delusions of grandeur. It’s easy (and fun) to stick the boot in on Roy Hodgson, but England managers rarely try anything experimental or different with their friendlies and if they do they are often lambasted by the press or the Football Association for doing so.
Listen: Roy Hodgson England Failure Special
Couldn’t the same thing be said of the Reds, though? Shouldn’t Liverpool managers use pre-season friendlies to have a look at a few different things, rather than just playing his strongest XI and then being made up when they batter the likes of TNS?
That’s not to suggest that no previous managers have done that, obviously. Kids went on tour to America last summer and we all remember the moment that Brendan Rodgers exerted his authority in Being: Liverpool by threatening to put Raheem Sterling on “the first plane back” if he said ‘steady’ one more time.
But don’t we, as fans, put a little bit too much stock into friendly results? How many times have we seen supporters try to second guess the manager’s starting 11 for an upcoming season based on the line-up in pointless friendlies? If Liverpool’s team tomorrow at Tranmere Rovers has Simon Mignolet in goal and Martin Skrtel in central defence, how many people would throw their toys out of the pram and be calling Klopp for everything?
I was thinking of my dad’s Brazil hypothesis when I read that Jürgen Klopp doesn’t care if we win our friendly matches. The manager said: “In all of the pre-season games we will play we will play out full training. So if we play our best in pre-season then I’ve done something completely wrong. It’s another session, it’s not about beating our opponents. I don’t care about how big the opponent is we will say nothing about the situation.”
So if he’s not arsed whether we win, lose or draw and neither should you be, then what’s the point in any of the games we’re going to play this summer?
As football fans we’re conditioned to want our team to win no matter what. I remember going to see a charity match of Liverpool Legends versus a gang of celebrities and moments after kick-off the fella behind me shouted, “Come on Reds, fucking get into these!” I’m not sure Robbie Williams and Paddy McGuinness were really that arsed about getting a result, to be honest, and Kenny Dalglish was about 60 at the time.
Yet your man behind me wanted a win because the lads in Red were representing Liverpool and he always wants Liverpool to win. So what if the players with the Liverbird on their chest had more chance of getting a hip injury than a goal? It’s about winning, winning, winning…isn’t it?
No, it’s not. Not this pre-season. We’ve all heard how important Klopp considers pre-season to be, and there’s a reason for that. He wants his players to be getting their fitness up to peak levels so that they can hit the ground running. He wants lads to be learning his system of play and knowing when to close someone down and when to let them have the ball. He needs Andreas Kornmayer to introduce them all to these hellish triple training sessions he’s been talking about and he wants Mona Nemmer to get their diet sorted.
But there’s more than that going on this summer, too. For all that our support base loves to go mental over transfers, there are certain questions Klopp may still need answers to before he can make final decisions over things. What’s Jordan Henderson’s fitness like after a period of rest and recuperation, for example? Can Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge work as a two? Can Danny Ings fit in somewhere — like a massively wool version of Dirk Kuyt doing the graft — while Phil Coutinho and Sadio Mané do the fancy stuff?
The midfield offers possibly the biggest set of questions for our German manager. Who will be the best partner for Emre Can? Is Marko Gujic really ‘one for the future’ as everyone seems to be expecting, or does he have more to his game than that? Could Lazar Markovic resurrect his Liverpool career, alternating with our new signing from Southampton to offer something different? Will James Milner ever be able to look as though he’s not absolutely knackered after about five minutes? Can anyone take a fucking corner?
When Louis van Gaal took over from David Moyes in 2014 his United side played six pre-season friendlies, winning every single one. They beat LA Galaxy 7-0 and Real Madrid and Liverpool 3-1. United finished in the top four that season but it wasn’t exactly thrilling football that they played, and their opening five fixtures resulted in losses to Swansea and Leicester and draws with Sunderland and Burnley. What good were their seven wins when it came to the crunch?
There’s something else to bear in mind when it comes to our pre-season games of course: We’ve got to play them. Like it or not, commercialisation is a huge part of the game nowadays and Liverpool will earn a pretty penny from a number of the matches that they play, especially when they’re on the American tour. The club will sell shirts, enjoy a cut of ticket prices and spread its name in a part of the world that is likely to prove extremely lucrative in the future.
Klopp needs to experiment this summer. He needs to figure out who can be part of his squad at the start of the season when a number of players may not have returned from the Euros. He needs to see who can be called upon when the likes of Matip and Mané head off to the African Cup of Nations. He’ll be trying to work out which system gets the most out of his players and how easily they can switch from one way of playing to another.
Mostly, though, he’ll be looking to see how fit his team is becoming in preparation for their tilt at the title.
So whether Liverpool batter Barcelona or get schooled by Fleetwood Town, let’s not read too much into it, hey?
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A small point on Joel Matip – he hasn’t been selected for Cameroon since the 2014 world cup, so any suggestion he’ll be off to the ACN in January may well not happen.