How Liverpool are shaping up for the Community Shield after pre-season of ‘pain’

Popular Liverpool kitman Yinka Ademuyiwa brought the house down with his rendition of Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby during the traditional pre-season initiation karaoke night for new recruits.

His claims to delivering the most complete performance of the club’s stay in Austria remained firmly intact after Jurgen Klopp and his squad returned to their picturesque training base in Saalfelden following Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat to RB Salzburg.

Yet there’s little cause for concern over why Liverpool failed to hit the high notes at the Red Bull Arena. A degree of fatigue both in body and mind was understandable given the punishing double sessions the players have faced over the past week.

After one endurance running drill in the searing heat, shattered vice-captain James Milner turned to the coaching staff and joked: “Do you just enjoy watching pain?”

For Klopp, this precious time in the stunning surroundings of the Leogang Mountains is about laying the foundations for the season ahead rather than being preoccupied with friendly results. Klopp has been delighted by what’s been achieved tactically, physically and in terms of fostering the unity and spirit he holds dear.

With the Austrian Bundesliga having kicked off last weekend, champions Salzburg were always going to provide a proper test, and that challenge was intensified by Klopp’s decision to field a youthful starting line up including 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 an experimental side. The Uruguayan striker, who had fellow new boy Fabio Carvalho and Harvey Elliott for company in a three-pronged attack, saw one sweet strike clip the bar. But for the most part, he was too isolated and service to him was lacking.

Darwin Nunez cut an isolated figure upfront in the first half against Red Bull Salzburg (Photo: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

At the other end, centre-backs Joe Gomez and Ibrahima Konate were caught out by the impressive Slovenian youngster Benjamin Sesko, who coolly fired past Adrian. It was the kind of goal Liverpool simply don’t concede when Virgil van Dijk is out there.

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

The changes that followed in the second half, as many of his leading players were belatedly unleashed, hinted at how Klopp will approach Saturday’s Community Shield against Manchester City at Leicester’s King Power Stadium.

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

Those nine appear likely to start against Pep Guardiola’s side, although picking between Konate and Matip to partner Van Dijk is a tricky one. Then it’s a toss-up between Nunez and Roberto Firmino for the final outfield place.

Those who miss out on Saturday will play in Sunday’s final warm-up game against Strasbourg at Anfield.

Senior Anfield sources have rubbished speculation in Italy that Juventus have tabled a £20million ($24.4m) bid for Firmino. The Brazilian may have entered the final year of his contract but Liverpool insist they aren’t looking to sell and Klopp is planning for the season ahead with the former Hoffenheim attacker on board.

Klopp had initially hoped to have Alisson back to face Manchester City but he needs more time to recover from abdominal problem. Alisson is expected to return for the opening Premier League game against Fulham, which will be timely given his deputy Caoimhin Kelleher is still sidelined by the groin injury that’s wrecked his pre-season. Adrian has performed admirably in the friendlies but Alisson is in a class of his own.

Nunez will inevitably become the focal point of the Liverpool attack, but it’s just a case of when Klopp decides he’s fully up to speed. In the meantime, with Diogo Jota injured, Firmino is likely to be the beneficiary when it comes to game 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 contest was vast, as Liverpool dominated and took up residence inside Salzburg’s half. Diaz, Salah, Firmino and Alexander-Arnold were all thwarted by keeper Nico Mantl. Then when Diaz finally converted it was ruled out for offside because Firmino had been too slow to make the pass. Somehow the hosts clung on.

“It was like a thunderstorm, we were like a truck, but we didn’t finish the situations off,” added Klopp. “It would have been nice if you get a result for the effort but it will be fine. We played that game on the back of 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 on the receiving end of some rough treatment. The manager raged at the officials late on for their failure to award a penalty after Diaz went down in the box. Replays showed, however, that Youba Diarra had got a toe on the ball.

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

Now the King Power awaits on Saturday as their time in Austria comes to an end. 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 getting it right for Fulham in their Premier League opener, but every contest with City matters. It’s a chance to put down a marker for the season ahead. They didn’t get a standing ovation from a packed crowd like Ademuyiwa did after his initiation, but defeat to Salzburg shouldn’t dent anyone’s belief in how Liverpool’s preparations have gathered pace.

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

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