Liverpool continued their lacklustre pre-season with a 3-0 defeat to Napoli at the home of Scottish Rugby, Murrayfield, yesterday.
The performance, as had been the case in the previous three games on the summer tour of the United States — against Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Sporting CP — was poor, as the Reds looked disjointed in both attack and defence.
The European Champions depart for Evian, France for a training camp this Monday, and manager Jurgen Klopp has promised that the intensity of the planned training sessions — as well as the return of Mohamed Salah, Naby Keita, Sadio Mane and Alisson Becker, et all — will see Liverpool become, in the German’s own words, a “different animal”.
As such, the real pre-season, where the focus will be on the footballing side of things — rather than the fitness element, which is the onus of the early part of the seasonal preparations — starts in the French training camp. The scheduled game against Lyon on Wednesday evening in Geneva will be a better measurement of the Anfield side’s sharpness and re-acclimatisation to Klopp’s distinct tactical style.
All of that means, of course, that it is pointless to read into the Reds’ performance against Napoli.
One thing we can learn, however, from the game against the Serie A runners up is the squad pecking order that is becoming clearer to see as the pre-season develops.
In his regular 433 shape, Klopp started the Napoli game with the same attacking trio that started the Sporting CP game in New York’s Yankee Stadium; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum flanking Divock Origi.
To play this front three in consecutive games suggests that this is the attacking trident the former Mainz and Dortmund coach will look to use in the Community Shield showdown versus Manchester City next weekend.
For Ryan Kent and Harry Wilson, in particular, utilising two midfielders in the wide berths over natural wingers does not bode well for their prospects of remaining at Anfield this coming season.
When you factor in Shaqiri’s injury and Salah still having to return from holiday, it looks as if Wilson is the fourth choice right-winger. Even Oxlade-Chamberlain, who hasn’t played as a winger in over two seasons, has supremacy over the left-footed, Wrexham native on the right-hand side of the Reds’ attack.
Given Oxlade-Chamberlain has been primarily used as a centre midfielder in his Liverpool career and is just back from a serious injury, his selection over Wilson is a strong indicator of Klopp’s reluctance to consider the 22-year-old a serious first-team option.
Many had questioned whether the former Hull and Derby loanee — who has impressed in consecutive Championship loans — would get a chance to stake his claim for a first-team place this pre-season. Reading between the selection lines, however, it looks as if the Welsh internationals days at Liverpool could be numbered.
With Aston Villa, Newcastle United and, most recently, Borussia Dortmund apparently interested in the £25,000,000 rated winger, Wilson could soon depart to pastures new, and it would be difficult to blame when his opportunities — even in what could be a marathon season — could well be limited.
A noticeable absentee for the squad for the Napoli clash was Ryan Kent, who also didn’t feature in the travelling party for the Evian training camp.
The official line from the club was that the 22-year-old, Oldham born winger was “sick”, which is usually football code for being on the cusp of a move. Rumours have intensified that Rangers — who Kent spent a season playing on loan for under Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard — are close to bringing the former Freiburg loanee back to Ibrox on a permanent deal.
In the post-match press conference after the Napoli defeat, Klopp confirmed that the club will not countenance any more temporary switches for Kent, with the 22 year old better off finding a new club and starting his career aproper.
“His time is over for loans. At the age he is now, he needs to find a place where he can settle. We will see what happens but a loan is not planned,” said the former Borussia Dortmund coach.
Whether Liverpool dip into the transfer market before the window closes on August 8th remains to be seen, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that there may well be outgoings in the form of Kent and Wilson.