The Reds start at Prenton Park again as Jürgen Klopp gets set for a massive season.
It was time for Jürgen Klopp to put the umbrella hat back in the suitcase for another year as he arrived back at Melwood to see what state his Liverpool players were in. Hopefully a good state – in just one week’s time he’ll be taking them across the water to Prenton Park as the Reds kick pre-season off against Tranmere Rovers for the second year running.
A few players weren’t at Melwood yet, having been granted some extra time off to make up for being away on international duty – does Emre Can actually need rest? As well as Emre, the likes of Lallana, Coutinho, Wijnaldum, Mignolet, Lovren and new boy Mohamed Salah were missing on the first day but they’ll all be back at various stages in the coming days and weeks.
According to the club, Klopp was due to have 22 of his players back in training, including a handful who were missing at the end of last season. The likes of club captain Jordan Henderson and player of last season Sadio Mane were set to be put through their paces again, alongside Joel Matip, James Milner, Alberto Moreno, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Lucas Leiva, Nathanial Clyne, Danny Ings, Daniel Sturridge and Bobby Firmino.
The Tranmere game should see most of these players involved at some stage over the 90 minutes and will also be an opportunity for players like Lazar Markovic to put themselves in the shop window – or prove to the manager they are worth sticking with. Probably the former.
Having seen Mane and Matip become such integral and important parts of the Reds squad it feels mad their first appearances in Red came just a year ago, at Prenton Park in last year’s friendly. Seeing Mane fit and running about again will be a relief to Liverpool fans, who can then start to wonder just how potent the Reds are going to be once Salah is ready to start playing. Fans will also be wondering who else is going to be starting by the time the League season gets going – Liverpool’s squad is far from complete.
How much these games tell us about how the season itself will pan out is a matter of opinion, but it’ll be good to get back to watching football again, it feels like years since that sunny day in May when Liverpool closed the season in style with a 3-0 win against Middlesbrough.
The weekend of that game Prenton Park was home to a three-day music festival which, on the Saturday, saw the “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!” chant gets its first airing as the Labour leader went down a storm after being introduced by Reverend and the Makers ahead of sets by The Coral and the Libertines.
Corbyn spoke that day about his desire to get the Premier League big boys to share some of their wealth at the grass roots level of the game. To be fair to Liverpool, their gesture in opening their pre-season campaign at their Merseyside neighbours’ home will give the National League side a massive boost financially, especially if Reds fans turn up in the kind of numbers likely to be seen overseas when they head out on tour a week later.
Liverpool’s Anfield and Tranmere’s Prenton Park are about six miles and the width of the Mersey apart, but the distance financially is almost immeasurable, such are the riches bestowed on Premier League clubs these days.
Tranmere reached the play-off final last season, just missing out on a return to league football that would have been worth an estimated £2m to the club. Assuming Liverpool make it to the Champions League group stages they’ll be in line for a €1.5m bonus every time they win a game – and that’s without factoring in all the increased income from the TV and gate receipts.
This is a key season for Klopp, the third Reds campaign he’s been involved in but only his second full one. Expectations will still be high, as we saw last season. It began with players and fans talking about the big step needed to not only improve on the previous year’s 8th place but to get into the Champions League slots. By winter, the talk was of winning the league and anything less was starting to be talked of as failure in some quarters.
2017/18 has to be about consolidating that top four place, maybe building on it to avoid ending up in the qualifiers again, but also showing some genuine intent in the Champions League. You don’t just qualify for it for the sake of it!
The last time Liverpool made it into Europe’s biggest competition they treated it almost as an inconvenience, resigned to an early exit before a ball had even been kicked – that kind of attitude just won’t wash this time. Then again, can anyone really imagine Jürgen Klopp going into the competition half-heartedly?
Not that the fans ever treated it half-heartedly – as will, of course, be demonstrated this time around when European nights return to Anfield. It’s perhaps fitting the first warm-up match for this season is being played under the floodlights at a ground that will be more than happy to see Reds fans turn up with their famous banners and get an important new season off with a bang.
* Tickets are still available – no fan card needed so it’s a chance to take the kids to a match (or to sit with your mates)!