By Brett Callwood
Manchester United vs Liverpool is a game that always matters! Until, that is, it doesn’t.
At this moment in time, the first pre-season fixture on the LFC schedule is Man Utd at the Rajamangala Stadium in Thailand, which is a little unusual. Ordinarily, we kick off with a couple of games against local lower division sides such as Tranmere, Chester or Preston. Oftentimes, some of the prime players haven’t returned from their holidays due to extended international duties or something, so we send out a young team, fringe players, and the eternally eternal James Milner.
There’s still time to announce another couple of low-key pre-season fixtures, but at the mo, United is first up. Then it’s Palace in Singapore. And so on.
We played United during the pre-season a couple of years ago, in Ann Arbor, Michigan (43 miles from Detroit). The game (4-1 to the reds) has been forgotten by most, but you might recall the fourth goal – a stunning overhead volley by Shaqiri. Those who were at the game – the US fans who rarely get a chance to see their heroes – certainly do.
SHAQIRI JUST SCORED AN OVERHEAD KICK AGAINST UNITED IN HIS DEBUT FOR LIVERPOOL pic.twitter.com/WQupDxpR23— Ste Carson 🌱 (@sjrcarson) July 28, 2018
But still, the game, the result, didn’t matter. It was 100 percent about getting players warmed up and in rhythm, and integrating new and youth players. This game in Thailand is no different. It’s United but the result on July 12 doesn’t matter. On the other hand, the result against the same opposition on August 20 very much does.
As the Redmen TV lads recently pointed out on the “New Era” podcast, when you’re up against Man City for the league, you have to hit the ground running. Therefore it’s inevitable that most of our attention during the friendlies is going to be focussed on how we’re going to cope without Sadio Mane, and more specifically whether Darwin Nunez will fill the gap.
But it’s worth remembering that these will be Nunez’s first minutes with new teammates. They’re not competitive minutes, so the priority is on getting to know his new colleagues. If he doesn’t score, if he plays poorly even, it’s not important. This is all about acclimatising.
The gaffer may well use the opportunities in pre-season to experiment with formations too. Why the hell wouldn’t he? So we might see the forward players, all of the players in fact, in positions they’re not generally familiar with. And so, it might initially look rusty, clunky and unattractive. But again, we shouldn’t worry about it at all. Listen to our players from the great sides of the ‘80s, people like Stevie Nicol, and you’ll hear them laugh about how they often got stuffed in pre-season.
It’ll be exciting to see Calvin Ramsey in a Liverpool shirt. Last season, there were games when we were crying out for a like-for-like replacement for Trent – a right-sided Kostas if you will. Robbo was and is the first choice left-back, but the quality didn’t dip noticeably when the Greek Scouser played and he even had that big moment in the FA Cup Final shootout. On the right, Milner and Gomez did a fine job when Trent was rested, but it still felt a bit square-peg-round-hole. Milner is a midfielder (and a damn fine one). Joey Gomez is a centre back who will hope to challenge Matip and Big Ibu this coming season. Neco Williams would appear to be heading for the exit door after a great loan spell with Fulham. So Ramsey will have opportunities, and time to bed in.
It’ll be interesting to see where Klopp plays Fabio Carvalho in pre-season. Is he going to be a creative midfielder, or a forward? Or both? The fact that we haven’t signed a(nother) midfielder, and that Keita is still with us, would suggest the former. We’ll have to see, but he’s a thrilling talent.
So what else to watch? Hopefully we’ll see Kaide Gordon on the field a lot. If Taki is indeed leaving us (as is being reported), following Divock and Sadio, then Kaide may well be “number six” in the striker rotation, and that would mean game time in the domestic cups. It’ll be interesting to follow that.
This is surely a massive season for Curtis Jones, who still hasn’t nailed down a starting position in the team but remains a popular member of the squad. A full pre-season should get Harvey Elliott firing on all cylinders again, and Kelleher will likely be playing for the first time since his League Cup Final penalty.
By the time we get to the Community Shield meeting with City (is that a pre-season friendly – you decide), we should be close to ready.
Pre-season is exciting because of what lies ahead, the potential in front of us, rather than the result in any one specific game. It’s interesting on an analytical level rather than edge-of-the-seat exciting.
But hey, footy’s footy!
By Brett Callwood