In 1892 at the beginning of Liverpool’s first ever season, bunch of rag tag players assembled from different clubs descended on the Anfield sports and athletic grounds to prepare for the clubs first season in the Lancashire combination. Fast forward to 2017 and the club begins its 125th pre-season campaign in stark contrast. Sporting the new deep red kit to commemorate the clubs anniversary of existence, complete with state of the art in-play GPS systems and heart rate monitors, Liverpool trotted onto the freshly laid Prenton Park pitch this evening at the start of another season of hope and excitement.
The first game of pre-season is traditionally in less of a competitive spirit and the aim is more on improving fitness and regaining a feel for top level football again. It is also used as chance for fringe and youth players to prove their worth to the squad, and that was reflected in Jurgen Klopps team selection. Loris Karius started in goal as he began his challenge for the number goalkeeping shirt. A bank of four was given the job of protecting the German which consisted of James Milner, Joel Matip, Lucas Leiva and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Jordan Henderson returned to the side after his long layoff due to injury, and he was joined in midfield by Giorginho Wijnaldum and Marko Grujic. Roberto Firmino played his first game in the number 9 shirt up front alongside Daniel Sturridge and Sheyi Ojo, whose loan to Middlesbrough is looking imminent. Mohamed Salah was unable to play because of work permit issues. Salah must leave the country and return before his work permit is validated. He has been sent on a lovely couple of days away in Paris in the meantime. This was only a team for the first half however, as Jurgen Klopp also announced a completely different XI for the second half. More on that later.
Before the game had reached the one minute mark, it had its first chance. Giorginho Wijnaldum played a ball from the midfield into the path of Sheyi Ojo, who had darted into the middle from the right flank. His first touch took Tranmere ‘keeper, Scott Davies, out of the game and second sent the ball wide of Davies’ goal. An early warning for the home side. Tranmere are coming off the back of a disappointing defeat in last season National League play-off final against Forest Green Rovers, which will see them spend a third season outside of the Football League. In the third minute, they looked to banish that ghost when Liam Ridehalgh crossed for Andy Cook from the left. Cook rose above Lucas but could only direct his header over Karius’ bar. A sign that Tranmere had not be Liverpool’s sparring partners.
That chance would be the home sides only one of the half though, as the remainder of the first period was played mostly in Tranmere’s final third. In the third minute Trent Alexander-Arnold won a corner on the right hand side. James Milner curled the ball into the near post where Lucas flicked it on. Matip arrived at the back stick to surely volley home from 6 yards but he fired ball into the away end instead. Minutes later Sheyi Ojo cut in from the right and tried to curl one into Scott Davies top left hand corner, only for his shot to deflect of the hulking frame of Steve McNulty. It looked momentarily like it still might spin into the home sides goal, but the ball went wide.
Ojo primarily played off the right hand side and was combining well with Alexander-Arnold. With the recently crowned under-20 World Cup winner cutting inside and troubling the opposition defence, and the clubs under-21 captain overlapping to devastating effect, the two were turning poor Liam Ridehalgh inside out down the Tranmere left.
But the game wasn’t all about the two youth products. Daniel Sturridge was starting to come alive. After switching wings with Ojo, he had a tame shot saved low by Davies. Minutes later Sturridge, after neat footwork on the edge of the area, slipped it into the Marko Grujic’s feet. With one touch, Grujic turned and suddenly found himself in space. The Serb fired towards goal and Davies could only parry straight to Sturridge, but he couldn’t sort his feet out in time and ball rolled back into the grateful arms of the Tranmere ‘keeper. Grujic started to get forward more and was becoming a target in the air. But it wasn’t him who would put Liverpool ahead on 34 minutes.
After a Liverpool throw in came loose, Jeff Hughes picked the ball up on the right hand side of the box. Under pressure, Hughes desperately poked it across the box. Davies came lunging out but Ojo got to the ball first and as brought down. Mike Dean blew his whistle and Liverpool had a chance to go one up from the spot. James Milner stepped up in the knowledge that he missed his last penalty against Southampton in May. On that day, it seemed that the vice-captain was psyched out by Fraser Forster. That wasn’t the case this tie though. Milner stepped up and shot towards the bottom right hand corner of the goal. Davies got a hand to it and probably should have saved it. It proved too much of for him and Milner was able to lay to rest his Southampton demon.
Holes started appearing in Tranmere’s backline which Liverpool tried to exploit. After Alexander-Arnold switched to Milner, he received the ball back from the left back. Alexander-Arnold played a tasty ball into the 6 yard box which nobody ran onto. Minutes later, Milner took control of the ball on the left corner of the area. With one touch he shifted it back inside before whipping a shot towards the opposite top corner of the net. It whistled into the crowd though luckily for Rovers. In the 42nd minute, Liverpool finally managed to double their lead.
Sheyi Ojo received the ball on the right and came inside. After taking on two players he laid it off to Marko Grujic 25 yards from goal. Grujic took one touch to get the ball out of his feet and shot. The ball dipped just before Scott Davies hand and bounced underneath it before rippling the bottom corner of his net. Liverpool were now comfortable and Grujic had a goal he deserved. Three minutes later the referee blew his whistle for half time and signal the end of this particular Liverpool teams game. Klopp couldn’t have asked for much from his players at half time and must have been pleased with what he had seen.
Going into the second half, Liverpool were all change. Dom Solanke came on to make his debut in a red shirt after completing his free transfer from Chelsea last week. Jon Flanagan, Ryan Kent and Lazar Markovic made their first appearances since returning from loan. Klavan, Gomez and Clyne completed the new look defence alongside the aforementioned Flanagan, while Ben Woodburn, Pedro Chirivella and Kevin Stewart made up a three man midfield.
Liverpool started brightly which was characterised by the early display of Ryan Kent. Kent was playing like he had a point to prove and was buzzing around the Tranmere defence, causing them panic. But it was Tranmere who had the first chance of the half. Ex-Liverpool forward Jack Dunn was brought down thirty yards from goal but his free kick could not dip in time to drop into Loris Karius’ goal. Kent got forward again and turned Buxton inside out. He lifted the ball to the back post. Pedro Chirivella took control and tried to chip it over Davies but only managed to lift it into the stoppers hands. Four minutes after the restart though, he would finally have his goal.
Kent, again looking dangerously, fired the ball into Solanke in the Tranmere area. The debutant spun on a sixpence on the corner of the 6 yard box and shot. The goalkeeper could only parry though and the ball spun to his left. Chirivella was on hand though, arriving to tap it into an empty net from all of 3 yards.
From there, Liverpool seemed to relent. Tranmere were beginning to grown into the game slightly. From a Duggan free kick, Joe Gomez couldn’t clear his lines and the ball dropped to Andy Mangan 5 yards from goal. Karius was able to smother the shot however making it difficult for the Scouser to score. Ten minutes later, a long ball was played to Nana Owusu. Nathaniel Clyne rose on the halfway line to head clear, but completely misjudged the flight of the ball. Owusu knocked it into space and was able to bully Joe Gomez off the ball before his panicked, tame shot was blocked by Ragnar Klavan.
Tranmere’s resurgence was fleeting though and Liverpool regained their foothold. Ryan Kent again ran at the Tranmere defence. Coming in from the left, he took on three defenders before sliding in Ben Woodburn. As the Welsh youngster took a touch to shift it out of his feet, he was brought down from behind and the ref blew for another penalty. Woodburn himself stepped and duly placed the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the Tranmere net, sending replacement goalkeeper Luke Pilling the wrong way in the process. This would prove to be Liverpool’s final goal but the chances kept coming.
Dom Solanke came back into the game after a prolonged quiet period. In the 82nd minute, he received the ball to feet 20 yards from the opposition goal. He was again allowed to turn and run at the defence. Showing nimble feet, he took on three players before shooting towards goal only to see his shot blocked. Not long afterwards, Chirivella found Solanke in the left hand channel. With one sublime touch, the youngster nutmegged his marker and found himself in space. With plenty of time to think about his finish, he fired straight at Pilling. Finishing seemed to be the only facet of his game that was letting Solanke down. But, at such a tender age, he appears to have everything needed to be a successful Premier League striker in the future.
With time running out, there was time for one last Liverpool chance. Lazar Markovic played in Ryan Kent on the left side of the Tranmere box. Kent tried to square only to see his pass deflect back into the path of the onrushing Serb, who had continued his run. Markovic, now only 7 yards from goal, looked certain to score but fizzed his shot over the bar.
Not long after Markovic’s howler, referee Mike Dean blew the whistle for full time. In his post match interview, Jurgen Klopp seemed philosophical about his sides performance. He was at pains to reiterate that the game was mostly about the run out and his players enjoyment, but he was obviously happy with the result.
So Liverpool are off and running with the preparations for the 2017/18 season. Not much should be made of a 4-0 friendly win over a National League side. However a lot of youngster played and staked a claim for future pre-season games. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ryan Kent particularly impressed, and Middlesbrough will have been pleased to see how Sheyi Ojo impressed with his loan move to the Riverside edging closer. It also worth noting that tonight marked the beginning of the 2nd qualifying round of the Champions League and that one of the teams in action could be Liverpool’s opponents in the next round in August. Kent and Alexander-Arnold will have done their chances of playing in a European tie no harm on the back of their performances tonight. But first, there is the small matter of another friendly against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium on Saturday. Another chance for one of Liverpool’s promising youngsters to step up and prove their ability.