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5 things we noticed as Van Dijk and Gomez return – and goals arrive!

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Liverpool’s latest pre-season friendly ended in defeat, but that irrelevance aside, it was a positive outing in many respects as some key players returned and others increased their workload.

Liverpool 3-4 Hertha Berlin

Pre-Season Friendly (4), Tivoli Stadium
July 29, 2021

Goals: Mane 37?, Minamino 42?, Oxlade-Chamberlain 87?; Ascacibar 21?, Serdar 31?, Jovetic 65? 80?

Elliott and the Reds’ left-footed brigade

There were a few moments of really impressive play in the first half – coincidentally or otherwise, all of them involving the team’s left-footers.

Harvey Elliott, No. 8 once more, fed several delicious passes through to the front line.

His ball-carrying, ability to filter out to the flank and willingness to play quick passes all make him a very intriguing re-addition to the squad so far this summer.

Mohamed Salah was lively throughout and looked sharp in and around the box, setting up more than one chance with clever backheels, and Kostas Tsimikas – despite giving away a free-kick which led to one goal – was again often driving forward, putting dangerous balls over and teed up Sadio Mane‘s strike with a low cross…left-footed, of course.

Now we just need to add Saul this summer and Erling Haaland next to complete the set, right?! Or left…

More than 45?

Now we start to move into the important phase of pre-season games: match-time buildup, progressing toward being able to play a full 90 minutes.

It usually gives a clue as to who is in line to play at the start of the season, too, pending form and fitness of course.

Five players remained on after the break for the Reds, a mix of positions and importance to last year’s team: Salah, Mane, James Milner, Naby Keita and Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Each played an hour, to varying levels of involvement and impressive performances. More to come next week, no doubt.

Attacking intent

Much more pressing, much more free-flowing attacking movement – that’s what this game gave us.

Set-pieces were also given an uplift, with a few dangerous Trent deliveries particularly notable, but it was really the quickness of certain players to put pressure on Hertha – Keita, Ox, Salah, Jones and Gordon all worth a mention here – and the speed of moving the ball which were the improvements.

Lots of fun transitions, lots of one-twos, lots of clever third-man runners and lots of backheels for whatever reason – it was a good mix of the fun, the entertaining and the worthwhile to create chances.

The Reds are looking sharper, which is just as well with the season two weeks away.

Returning faces

Andy Robertson came on at half-time for his first minutes of the summer in a red shirt, enjoying a nice runout without too much defensive work coming his way. Diogo Jota also played the final half-hour.

The bigger cheers, however, came when Virgil van Dijk went out to warm up a few minutes into the second half.

Our influential Dutchman has been a huge loss, no question, and just how well (and quickly) he returns to full capacity could go a long way toward dictating how well Liverpool can do this season.

He, and the similarly returning-after-long-term-injury Joe Gomez, played 22 minutes apiece – on just after the second-half pair of centre-backs, Rhys and Nat, conceded a fairly soft goal at about the first time of asking to deal with a Hertha attack.

No surprise that their entrance was the real standout moment of the game for the Reds, and no surprise if they start getting somewhere toward 45-minute halves of action apiece by the end of pre-season, either – as their cameos showed, they’ll need it before really returning.

The rest of pre-season

Onto the next part of our summer routine, then: training camp in Evian and two games against Bologna.

They’ll take place on the same day and they will be 60-minute matches, so it’s fair to assume that we might see an XI, or close to one, play the full hour in one of them and perhaps a split in the other fixture – Van Dijk and the like perhaps playing a half-hour, and so on.

It allows Jurgen to get more players on the pitch, keep the youngsters involved and still build up the match action of his seniors who will be facing Norwich on the opening day for the Reds.

Two Anfield friendlies await thereafter which will be fine-tuning events, and at that point the tactics on show as well as the fitness will be under the microscope. Defensively, there’s still plenty to work on, as should be expected.

Another positive runout for the Reds despite the scoreline, and Jurgen Klopp isn’t likely to be too disappointed by most of what he saw.

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