Defensive lapses cost the Reds against Dortmund but there were signs of genuine promise at the Notre Dame Stadium
At the home of the ‘Fighting Irish’, it was a battling Welshman, a young Frenchman and a pair of returning Englishmen who took centre-stage for Liverpool.
The Reds unbeaten start to the summer has been over, Jurgen Klopp’s side beaten 3-2 by Borussia Dortmund at the iconic Notre Dame Stadium.
Klopp had called this “the first proper test” of pre-season, and his words rang true. In the stifling Indiana heat, his European champions were given a real examination by the Bundesliga runners up.
Reading too much into friendly matches has been rarely advisable, of course, but Klopp will have been alarmed at the sloppiness which cost Liverpool all three of Dortmund’s goals. Punished by Paco Alcacer at the start of the first half, and by Thomas Delaney at the start of the second, the Reds were missing in action as Jacob Bruun Larsen netted the Germans’ third shortly before the hour mark. A late rally, courtesy of Rhian Brewster’s emphatic penalty, failed to produce a dramatic finish.
What will Klopp have learned here that he didn’t already know? He will have seen the positives in some areas, the flaws in others. With just over two weeks until the Community Shield against Manchester City, and exactly three until the Premier League opener at home to Norwich, the clock has been ticking.
We’ll start with the positives, shall we? The sight of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain banking another 60 minutes was a welcome one. The England international, Klopp believes, can be “like a new signing” for his team this season, and there were signs here, particularly in the first half, of what he will add.
His fitness, his real match fitness, has been still to come – understandable after the best part of a year out with a knee injury – but his qualities, his powerful, purposeful forward running, his energy and his willingness to ask questions from midfield, should add an extra dimension to an already-excellent side.
Elsewhere there was a goal, confidently taken, for Harry Wilson which briefly levelled the scores at 1-1. Like Oxlade-Chamberlain, this has been a big summer for the Welshman, who has returned to the club buoyed by a productive loan spell at Derby in the Championship last term.
Can he step up to be a genuine first-team option at Anfield? It’s a big ask, but Wilson’s ability to influence games with goals and assists has been certainly a valuable one, one which sets him apart from Liverpool’s other young wide prospect, Ryan Kent.
That goalscoring knack has been one shared by Brewster, of course. The teenager continued his red-hot form over the summer, emerging from the bench to slam home from the spot after Ben Woodburn had been felled in the penalty area. That’s four goals in three halves of football for the 19-year-old, who like Oxlade-Chamberlain has been ready to make his mark after a lengthy injury absence. The evidence of the past week or so suggests he will have a big impact on this team, both in the short and long term.
Others may have to wait a little longer. Kent has been likely to head out of the club again, perhaps on loan, perhaps permanently, while Woodburn would surely benefit, like Wilson did, from some regular football in the second tier. At 19, time has been very much on his side.
The same goes for Yasser Larouci, who offered glimpses of promise and signs of inexperience at left-back for the first hour. The Algerian-born Frenchman battled gamely with Jadon Sancho in the opening period, and has the pace and physicality to be a very useful soccer professional indeed, but at this level any flaw will be exposed. Out of position for Alcacer’s opener, it was Larouci’s lapse which led to Bruun Larsen’s goal after the break. The learning curve at Liverpool has been a steep one.
The Reds head for Boston, and the second leg of their three-city tour, on Saturday. On Sunday they visit another grand arena, taking on old foes Sevilla at Fenway Park. It promises to be a fine occasion.
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And, for Klopp’s players, another chance to get themselves in the manager’s eyeline.
Certainly, Wilson, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Brewster did so here. A trio of new signings? Not quite, but signs of promise nonetheless.
Now, about that defending…