Keita, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Elliott, Jones – Jurgen Klopp selection poser
Even with two friendlies still to come, Jurgen Klopp probably has a good idea who could line up for Liverpool when the real stuff begins at Norwich City in less than nine days’ time.
That is, though, with the exception of one key area. The midfield.
Fabinho, who strolled through half-an-hour in Thursday’s second win over Bologna, is a probably a given, especially with Jordan Henderson still yet to kick a ball this pre-season, Thiago Alcantara nursing a niggling thigh complaint and Gini Wijnaldum long gone.
James Milner has done a solid enough job deputising in the defensive midfield role – where he featured in the opening triumph against the Italian side – but it would be asking a lot for him to replicate that by himself in the cut and thrust of the Premier League.
Instead, Milner will almost certainly be among five players vying for the remaining two starting roles at Carrow Road, Henderson’s lack of minutes meaning he can expect bench duty at best.
Naby Keita, while quiet against Bologna, has impressed this summer and is most likely in direct competition for a more attacking role with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who struggled early on against the Italians but was far more dangerous the more advanced he became.
But arguably the more intriguing battle for central supremacy is between the two youngest members of the engine room.
Harvey Elliott again started alongside Milner and Keita and, while not as spectacular as in recent outings, did little wrong. Curtis Jones, meanwhile, was more involved when taking part in the second game and will hope his greater experience ultimately counts.
Klopp has always gone horses for courses in midfield, its composition no doubt depending on the opposition and who is selected in key positions elsewhere.
And the forthcoming Anfield friendlies against Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna could sway the Reds boss towards his final decision. Those midfield places remain very much up for grabs.
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No pressing concerns
Liverpool supporters watching on television had to rub their eyes and wonder if they had accidentally tuned in to a Manchester United friendly.
But if the sight of Klopp’s side wearing red shirts, black shorts and white socks was a little off-putting – and shades of Watford away for the more seasoned Anfield observer – there was something far more recognisable in both displays against Bologna.
There can now be no debate – the pressing game is back.
Injuries, form and the compressed schedule meant Liverpool had to take a sizeable step towards their own goal for large parts of last season, and struggled to find a new identity until the decisive closing weeks.
Now, though, the return to fitness of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, along with the introduction of £36million signing Ibrahima Konate, have allowed the Reds defence to take a collective stride forward – and, as a consequence, push everyone that bit nearer the opposition.
And the extra work during the pre-season training camp on once again embracing the press is already paying dividends.
Both goals in the opening 2-0 win over Bologna from Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane were through Liverpool hounding the opposing defence into a mistake, similar to the first two strikes in the 4-3 defeat to Hertha Berlin the previous week.
And while the approach in the second match against the Italians wasn’t quite so profitable, it was nevertheless apparent the Reds have regained their appetite for disruption.
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Tsimikas right for Liverpool
There are few more thankless tasks in football than being understudy to Liverpool’s full-backs.
Since being united during the 2017/18 season, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson have blossomed into the most progressive pair of wide defenders in Europe.
Alexander-Arnold was rewarded last week with a bumper new contract, with Liverpool hopeful Robertson will agree to follow suit in the near future.
The latter was making his first appearance during pre-season in the first game against Bologna, and was sufficiently lively to suggest his summer break was, as the player himself conceded, much needed.
But unlike last term, it appears there is a genuine alternative available to Klopp should he opt to take Robertson out of the firing line, of which there is now potential during the busy first months of the campaign.
Kostas Tsimikas has been one of the most encouraging performers of pre-season, and perhaps the stand-out in Thursday’s second match with a busy display from left-back, a danger with his crosses from which Roberto Firmino should really have profited at least once.
Having featured for just five minutes in the Premier League last season, Tsimikas will have sympathy for Neco Williams who, as clear understudy to Alexander-Arnold, is open to a move elsewhere in pursuit of more regular football.
But the Greece international, as with Robertson at the start of his Anfield career, is clearly benefiting from being given time to adjust to Klopp’s methods.