Liverpool vs Barcelona Preview: Reds look for morale-boosting result in penultimate pre-season run-out

Liverpool take on Barcelona in their penultimate pre-season friendly at a sold-out Wembley Stadium in an International Champions Cup tie, with former fans' favourite Luis Suarez in line to feature against the Reds for the first time since leaving in 2014.

Liverpool vs Barcelona Preview: Reds look for morale-boosting result in penultimate pre-season run-out
(Picture: Jonathan Walsh/VAVEL UK)

Liverpool take on Barcelona in the International Champions Cup at a sold-out Wembley Stadium on Saturday night in their penultimate pre-season friendly.

With just a week to go until the Premier League season gets underway, the Reds play their eighth and ninth warm-up friendlies within 24 hours of each other - starting with a glamour tie against reigning La Liga champions Barcelona.

Undoubtedly their toughest test yet, the clash will perhaps provide a welcome insight into what shape Jürgen Klopp's men are in so close to the season.

Though Luis Enrique won't travel with a full-strength side, his squad does boast the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and former Reds Luis Suarez and Javier Mascherano.

Suarez' return - the first time he will have faced his former club since a £75 million move to the Nou Camp two years ago - is the obvious main attraction.

Suarez hasn't come face-to-face with Liverpool since leaving in 2014. (Picture: Getty Images)
Suarez hasn't come face-to-face with Liverpool since leaving in 2014. (Picture: Getty Images)

The Uruguayan is still loved on Merseyside for the role he played in almost inspiring Liverpool to a long-awaited Premier League title in 2013-14 - plundering an incredible 31 goals as the undoubted talisman of Brendan Rodgers' team.

Having managed to improve even more in Spain - with a sensational goalscoring record of 84 goals in 96 games in all competitions - there remains a sense of what could have been had Suarez stayed for Liverpool's return to the Champions League in 2014-15.

Elsewhere, with a number of other notable names of Enrique's star-studded squad - headlined by the best player in the world in Messi - also coming to town, it's no surprise that Wembley's 90,000-capacity has long been sold out.  

But the game also has a competitive edge too, in that it is still possible Barcelona could win this year's United States and Europe of the International Champions Cup, although Paris-Saint Germain sit top of the table after winning all of their three games and boast a better goal difference by four.

How serious the Catalan giants take the clash remains to be seen, but even without Neymar - who is representing his country at the Rio 2016 Olympics - they have sufficient quality to put Liverpool to the sword.

Klopp and co. will be keen to lay a marker themselves. The boost that could come off a good result would be an ideal springboard ahead of their opening-weekend trip to Arsenal next Sunday.

Optimism has faded slightly since defeats to Chelsea and AS Roma on their US tour, but an improved performance will be the minimum expectation in the capital.

Their side will certainly be tested in what promises to be an entertaining spectacle, but Klopp will be looking for his side to prove they're ready and willing to take on teams of Barca's standing.

Team news

Klopp is expected to name a strong side, most of which should get a first full 90 minutes of pre-season under their belts with the manager having had to split his squad into two teams.

Facing Mainz the following afternoon as part of a weekend double-header, it is anticipated that Liverpool will name a side similar to the one expected to start at Arsenal next weekend.

Klopp confirmed that Joel Matip and Marko Grujic are available after foot pain and concussion issues respectively, and are in contention to play some part against Barcelona or Mainz.

Grujic could make his return from injury against the Catalans. (Picture: Getty Images)
Grujic could make his return from injury against the Catalans. (Picture: Getty Images)

Lucas Leiva (hamstring), Mamadou Sakho (achilles), Joe Gomez (achilles) and Loris Karius (broken hand) will all be absent but Divock Origi and Alberto Moreno could return from minor groin and hamstring problems.

Otherwise, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino are among those who should feature - while much is likely to be made of the formation Klopp opts for, having wrestled between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 throughout their run-outs so far.

As well as Messi and Suarez, Barcelona will take three Academy starlets to England with Camara, Mujica and Alfaro among the travelling squad although Marlon has returned to Brazil to process his visa.

The Spanish giants will be without Jordi Alba, who is out with illness, but welcome back  goalkeepers Marc Andre-ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo, Gerard Pique, Iniesta, Thomas Vermaelen and summer signing Lucas Digne.

Pre-match quotes

Ahead of the match, caught up with the Reds' former No.7 Suarez to get his thoughts ahead of the showdown. He called it "a really good moment to come back to play against Liverpool" as he hailed their support as "one of the best in the world."

"I think they [the fans] are excited for the game to see great players on the pitch," continued Suarez, who explained that "everybody knows" that Liverpool is "so important" in his life, in his career and his family too.

On returning to Wembley for the first time since 2013, Suarez insisted that England's national stadium is "special" and referred to the "three or four games" he played there for Liverpool.

He added: "It's important for this game that it's a friendly game because if it was in the Champions League or a really good tournament, it'd be difficult to play against Liverpool. But a friendly game is to enjoy."

Meanwhile, Klopp - speaking in his pre-match press conference on Friday - suggested that he has not been entirely satisfied with his side's pre-season because of his "really high" expectations.

He admitted that he wanted the Reds' preparations to be "perfect" but said: "It wasn't because of a few little injuries. The first two weeks were really good but the players who came back from the Euros were in a difficult physical situation. We have to accept it."

Acknowledging that some of his squad's pre-season "will go into the Premier League", he continued to say that facing Barcelona will be an exciting opportunity because they are "really strong."

While he said that playing Mainz could be even tougher "intensity-wise" because it's "a big game" for his former club, he insisted that Barcelona will prove "a real test" and "intense situation" which his side "have to be ready" for.