SOCCER

How Liverpool are preparing for the Community Shield after a ‘painful’ pre-season

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Popular Liverpool kitman Yinka Ademuyiwa caused a stir with his rendition of Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby at the traditional pre-season initiation karaoke night for new signings.

His claims to deliver the fullest performance of the club’s stay in Austria remained firmly intact after Jurgen Klopp and his team returned to their picturesque Saalfelden training base following Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to RB Salzburg. .

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Still, there’s no need to worry why Liverpool failed to hit the high marks at the Red Bull Arena. A degree of fatigue both physical and mental was understandable given the punishing double sessions the players have faced over the past week.

After an endurance running drill in the scorching heat, shattered vice-captain James Milner turned to the coaching staff and joked, “Do you just like watching the pain?

For Klopp, this precious time in the beautiful surroundings of the Leogang Mountains is about laying the groundwork for the season ahead rather than worrying about friendly results. Klopp was delighted with what was achieved tactically, physically and in terms of promoting the unity and spirit that he holds dear.

With the Austrian Bundesliga kicking off last weekend, champions Salzburg were always going to provide a proper test, and that challenge was heightened by Klopp’s decision to field a young starting line-up comprising four teenagers and seven players in total aged 23 or under.

After scoring four goals in the rout of RB Leipzig a week earlier, Darwin Nunez was asked to lead the line in what was essentially a trial side. The Uruguay forward, who had Fabio Carvalho and new-boy Harvey Elliott in a three-prong attack, saw a soft strike hit the bar. But for the most part it was too isolated and lacked service.


Darwin Nunez made an isolated first-half figure against Red Bull Salzburg (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

On the other side, central defenders Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate were caught by the impressive young Slovenian Benjamin Sesko, who coolly passed Adrian. It’s the kind of goal that Liverpool just don’t concede when Virgil van Dijk is there.

“In the first half we made too many mistakes,” admitted Klopp. “We were too open, too wide, not connected enough in the moments when we lost the ball. We gave them space for their counterattacks. Darwin was too alone. We could only pass him in the box. He needs a lot more support around him to keep the other players busy.

The changes that followed in the second half, when many of his key players were let loose late on, hinted at how Klopp will approach Saturday’s Community Shield against Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in Leicester.

Van Dijk, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Mohamed Salah and Luis Diaz were featured for the final half hour. Andy Robertson had replaced left-back replacing Milner at the break with Kostas Tsimikas ruled out with knee pain.

Those nine look likely to start against Pep Guardiola’s side, although choosing between Konate and Matip to partner Van Dijk is tricky. Then it’s a draw between Nunez and Roberto Firmino for the last outfield spot.

Those who will be absent on Saturday will play the last preparation match on Sunday against Strasbourg at Anfield.

Senior Anfield sources have denied speculation in Italy that Juventus have submitted a £20m ($24.4m) bid for Firmino. The Brazilian may have entered the final year of his contract but Liverpool insist they are not looking to sell and Klopp is planning for the coming season with the former Hoffenheim striker on board.

Klopp had initially hoped to bring Alisson back to face Manchester City, but he needs more time to recover from an abdominal problem. Alisson is set to return for the Premier League opener against Fulham, which will come at the right time given his assistant Caoimhin Kelleher is still sidelined with the groin injury that wrecked his pre-season. Adrian has played admirably in friendlies but Alisson is in a class of his own.

Nunez will inevitably become the focal point of Liverpool’s attack, but this is just one instance where Klopp decides he is fully aware. In the meantime, with Diogo Jota injured, Firmino should be the beneficiary when it comes to playing time.


Liverpool dominated the second half as Klopp made nine changes (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

The difference the substitutions made for the final third of the game was huge, as Liverpool dominated and settled into Salzburg’s half. Diaz, Salah, Firmino and Alexander-Arnold were all thwarted by goalkeeper Nico Mantl. Then, when Diaz finally converted, he was ruled out for offside as Firmino had been too slow to make the pass. Somehow the hosts got hooked.

“It was like a thunderstorm, we were like a truck, but we didn’t finish the situations,” Klopp added. “It would have been good if you got a result for the effort, but it will be good. We played this match after full training and we had to make a lot of changes.

Klopp had been angered on the touchline by Salzburg’s combative approach, with Carvalho in particular receiving rough treatment. The manager raged late against the officials for their failure to award a penalty after Diaz fell in the box. Replays, however, showed Youba Diarra had one toe on the ball.

“In the Premier League I would definitely go into the stands for the things I thought and said,” he later joked. It’s not often that Klopp can see the funny side when Liverpool lose, but it was a night where it was all about the bigger picture.

Now the King Power await Saturday as their time in Austria draws to a close. Liverpool haven’t won the Community Shield since 2006. They lost on penalties to City in 2019 and suffered the same fate against Arsenal 12 months later.

The priority remains to get it right for Fulham in their Premier League opener, but every game for City counts. This is an opportunity to set a milestone for the coming season. They didn’t receive a standing ovation from a packed crowd like Ademuyiwa did after his initiation, but the defeat at Salzburg shouldn’t shake anyone’s belief in the way Liverpool’s preparations have picked up pace.

(Top photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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