Pre-season 2015: What Have We Learned So Far?
by Mike Kennedy
We’re halfway through pre-season. What have we learned?
This season Liverpool will press ferociously
The most striking thing we’ve seen from a stylistic perspective is the super-high intensity that Liverpool have pressed with. It’s been remarkable. High-pressing was a characteristic of Rodgers’ manifesto when he arrived at LFC, but we lost sight of it completely last year.
It’s back with a bang. Even in the last 15 minutes of pre-season games we’ve seen Liverpool pressing relentlessly and with high energy. That’s incredible considering both the low fitness levels and meaningless nature of the friendly fixtures. The players are clearly fired up.
I don’t think Rodgers has re-evaluated his footballing philosophy this summer, he’s simply decided to return to it. In doing so, he’s revisiting its key principles (pressing, intensity, goals) and bringing in new coaching staff who share his philosophy ensures that those principles are delivered with consistency and in a way that’s fresh. It’s working.
We’re going to play 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 diamond
No great surprises here – most people thought we’d return to a back four. With the diamond, I’m looking forward to seeing more of Markovic and Lalana at the attacking tip (in Europa games & cup games when Coutinho/Firmino will be rested).
Milner can do everything
What a signing James Milner looks like. Strong defensively, strong offensively. Decent passer, positive mentality, superb work-rate & tireless engine, a determined character, bags of ability and a true professional. And fearless in the challenge. (He certainly won’t be ducking out of 50-50 challenges like Sterling was towards the end of last season.) He’s a £30m midfielder that we’ve signed for free. What a brilliant piece of business.
Milner and Henderson are going to be a formidable duo
Unless they’re outnumbered I expect this pair to comfortably win the central midfield battle against the bottom 15 teams in the league. The top four will give them a stiffer challenge, but nobody will bully these two. It’s satisfying to see them snapping into tackles and providing such energy and intent in the heart of the field.
Origi looks raw, Ings looks keen
The rangy Belgian has got something, but it clearly needs plenty of honing. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops under Rodgers’ tutelage.
Ings looks like a hard-working lad with decent movement. He hasn’t bowled me over, I’ve still got reservations about him, but I think he’s got some talent, a brilliant attitude and I love his ultra-professional approach to his work. That’s a recipe for positive development and if he can add some quality to his finishing he could prove a great value buy.
Joe Gomez is a starter
Perhaps the standout player of the tour, the 18-year-old reeks of quality. I thought this lad was destined for a loan, or a Tiago Llori-style slow burn period of development. But no, he’s ready to challenge for a place in the starting XI now.
Fast and athletic. Elegant and composed. Great technique, level-headed and keen to learn. It’s very early days of course, but he looks an elite prospect.
Another benefit of Gomez’s arrival is it will put extra pressure on Moreno to raise his game. The young Spaniard has potential, but his concentration frequently lets him down. Hopefully Gomez’s arrival will lead to increased focus and consistency from Moreno.
Clyne is our new right back
No fuss. No drama. This lad will play at right-back for Liverpool.
He reminds me of Lee Dixon; he does the simple things simply. After the horror show that was 2014-2015 Glen Johnson, Clyne is like a calming mug of camomile tea. A Steady Eddie. 7 out of 10, week-in week-out.
It’ll be fascinating to see how his arrival impacts the performance of the back four as a whole.
Ibe warrants (and needs) starting XI game time
I’m not as on-board the Jordan Ibe hype train as some. I rate him highly and think he could become a wonderful player, but I want to see him kick on this season and turn his promising play into more tangible benefits for the team. More goals, more assists. He deserves time in the starting XI and I think he requires it to develop. There’ll be loads of Europa matches of course, so we’ll hopefully see a lot of Ibe this season.
Sakho has the bit between his teeth
The charismatic Frenchman looks determined to push on this season. He’s come back looking lean, mean and determined. He always seems to have an error in his game, which worries us all, but I think Sakho and Gomez could form a decent ball-playing partnership on that left side. I’m looking forward to seeing where that goes.
There’s some hope for Lovren
Whisper it. Lovren looks a little better. Perhaps a little more confident too.
Joe Allen will feel the squeeze this season
I think Joe Allen will be the big loser from this summer’s recruitment drive. He’ll stick around (Rodgers loves him), but I expect him to get less league time this year. Which feels like a shame, but it’s not. (I like Allen, but would he get into any other midfield in the top 4?)
Milner’s arrival means there’s one less central midfield berth than even last year (Gerrard could be rested, Milner won’t be). And let’s not forget Emre Can is seriously banging on the door.
The young German looked like a colossus in this summer’s U21 European Championships. (He was poor in Germany’s last game against Portugal, but the entire German team was sub-par in that 5-0 defeat.)
Can’s more advanced position during the U21 tournament showed the folly of playing him in defense. He’s a central midfielder of immense potential and stature. That’s where we all want to see him play for Liverpool this season.
Defense and midfield looking stronger, attack next?
Our defence and midfield has looked strong in pre-season (we have full backs at long last and I think 2015 Milner is an upgrade on 2015 Gerrard). But we’ve looked short in attack. Of course, with Firmino, Coutinho, Sturridge and Benteke all to come in (and Ings and Origi settling in), things will look much sharper at that end of field soon. I hope so at least, as this is where our season hinges. I can’t wait to see these players on the field together.
There’s a wave of positive energy and momentum
There’s a positivity around the club, in the fanbase and the staff. The new players and new coaching team have reinvigorated the group and in many ways it feels like a fresh start for everyone. That has to be a good thing given the atrocious and dispiriting conclusion to last season. Rodgers’ challenge is to keep this positive momentum going and turn it into Premier League points.