Breaking down Liverpool's pre-season
A detailed look at Liverpool's preparations ahead of the opening weekend of the 2022/23 campaign.
From Bangkok to Singapore, Germany to Austria, and finally Leicester to Anfield with the Community Shield in hand, Liverpool’s jam-packed pre-season schedule is very nearly complete, as the opening day trip to Craven Cottage looms ever closer.
We’ve seen a mixed bag of results and performances, as one would expect with players building up fitness levels, regaining full match sharpness and various tactical tweaks being worked on, but the emphatic nature of the 3-1 victory over Man City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday evening provided a tantalising snapshot of what may be to come in the weeks and months ahead.
So, with the new Premier League season very nearly upon us, here are a few general notes from the past few weeks and a look ahead to what we can expect from Liverpool as the 2022/23 season unfolds.
Mohamed Salah is looking happier than ever – and raring to go
Perhaps there’s some confirmation bias at play here, but from everything we’ve seen during pre-season, both in training clips and in matches, Salah has looked like he’s been loving every minute of it. His general demeanour and body language appears so relaxed and sprightly, while his performances on the pitch have been razor sharp – particularly against Man City, in which he tormented Joao Cancelo throughout and showcased his (still under-appreciated) creative prowess in the build-up to all three goals, including the situation that culminated in the penalty he scored.
Whether it’s down to the fact that all the contract speculation that was hanging over his head last season has evaporated, or also because he’s simply feeling mentally and physically reinvigorated after a proper summer break following his gruelling exertions and the disappointment of his international exploits with Egypt earlier this year, Salah appears in prime shape to hit the ground running and lead Liverpool’s charge for more silverware this season.
Darwin Nunez makes an instant impact
Turns out that Uruguayan striker who scored 32 goals for Benfica last season, including at the Nou Camp, the Allianz Arena and Anfield in the Champions League, is really quite good. Who could’ve guessed that Liverpool’s coaches, scouts and analytics department knew what they were doing when they decided to invest a potential club record fee to secure his services? Of course, as Jürgen Klopp has explained, there’s still plenty of work to be done with Darwin Nunez as he continues to adapt to Liverpool’s style of football – and vice versa – but the initial signs have been hugely encouraging, despite the constant stream of drivel being spouted on social media in a desperate attempt to engineer a nonsensical ‘flop’ narrative.
By nature, Nunez is very different to anything Liverpool have had throughout Klopp’s tenure so far, so it’s no shock that there will be some initial teething problems to iron out, both for him and his teammates as they continue to develop their mutual understanding. Whereas Salah and Luis Diaz are like scalpels in the way they slice opposition defences apart from outside to in, Nunez is much more akin to a bulldozer in terms of his imposing physical stature and direct movement in central areas.
It’ll take some time to fully gel, and there will still be plenty of use for Roberto Firmino in certain scenarios, but what Nunez has already shown, in abundance, is his ability to get on the end of chances and cause problems for opposition defenders in a completely different way to any of Liverpool’s other attackers. In his 30 minutes on the pitch against Man City in the Community Shield, they didn’t know what to do with him as he won one penalty, nearly won another and then bagged himself a debut goal with an excellent piece of movement and a classic number nine-style stooping header finish at the end. His work rate, meanwhile, was relentless, harrying defenders with exactly the kind of intensity you want to see from a Liverpool forward.
An important focus over these next few months will be for Nunez to refine the other aspects of his game – i.e. the nuances of Liverpool’s pressing patterns, and his link-up play with those around him – but as he continues to work on those areas, the early signs suggest he’ll be rippling the net on a very regular basis, such are his predatory instincts in front of goal. Also, the more defenders he occupies, the more space that will open up for Salah and Diaz to exploit. The possibilities are mouthwatering.