One of the perks of the new season is finally getting to see new signings on the competitive stage. Fans watch them throughout pre-season and see what they have in their locker and what they bring to the side ahead of the new season.
But friendlies in far off lands are a different story to the real deal that is the Premier League and that’s where fans can really begin to form their opinions on the summer arrivals.
On Sunday, Liverpool saw the debuts of three of the summer signings in Sadio Mane, signed for £30 million from Southampton, Georginio Wijnaldum, signed for £25 million from Newcastle and Ragnar Klavan, signed for £4.2 million from Augsburg. But how did they perform in the Reds' 4-3 victory over Arsenal?
Magical Mane impressed
Can you ask for a better debut performance? We all saw what Sadio Mane could bring to the Liverpool team this season when he played a huge part in that destruction of Barcelona at Wembley. However, the question was when the season began proper would he be able to reproduce his pre-season form and start helping Liverpool win points in the league? On yesterday’s performance, the answer is a resounding yes.
Mane’s importance to this Liverpool team was shown in the first half when out of the attacking players, he was the one who attempted to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. As others laboured and surrendered possession, Mane kept winning the ball back and then getting Liverpool up the pitch with his direct, quick bursts with the ball. His quick feet and strength make him extremely difficult to tackle so he can move forward with the ball and relieve pressure in an instant.
In the second half, as Liverpool stepped up a gear, so did Mane. He was confident in possession and kept Liverpool moving forward every time he picked up possession. The pace he offers is such an asset to the Liverpool side and his display at the Emirates was phenomenal. He could easily have been picked for the man of the match award.
His goal was just on another level. It’s very rare that a strike of such quality from Philippe Coutinho wasn’t even the best goal of the day. The Brazilian’s perfectly executed free-kick was trumped by Mane’s. The £30 million summer signing moved onto a loose ball on the right side of the pitch. He used his electric pace to breeze past Calum Chambers before cutting inside of Nacho Monreal and drilling the ball into the far top left corner.
After his goal he only had eyes for Jürgen Klopp who he ran over to celebrate with. It showed how much he is enjoying playing under the German. Klopp’s reaction when it went in spoke volumes as well as he realised that he may have brought a very special player to the club.
Wijnaldum showing glimpses of promise
It was a tale of two halves for Georginio Wijnaldum at the Emirates. In the first half he was invisible; the second half instrumental. Wijnaldum was part of a three-man midfield with Adam Lallana and Jordan Henderson and played on the left hand side of the trio.
Like many players in the first half, Wijnaldum didn’t turn up. He struggled to get up to the pace of the game and was regularly overpowered by the Arsenal midfield of Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey.
He was a passenger and was caught in possession on numerous occasions and didn’t influence the game as effectively as he would have wanted to or needed to. He did however show a glimpse of what he does bring late on in the first half as he arrived late in the box during a Liverpool counter-attack, but saw his weak effort comfortably saved by Petr Cech.
It wasn’t the greatest start to his competitive debut from Wijnaldum and looked nowhere near the £25 million player that Klopp brought in this summer. However, the second half was a completely different story. Liverpool began to control the game and Wijnaldum played a huge part in that as he began to get on the ball and use it effectively and he was much more energetic.
Hesitant in the first half but dynamic in the second, he showed what he can bring to the Liverpool team when on form. The Dutchman made a surging run from the middle and was found by a cute flick from Coutinho. Wijnaldum kept a cool head, twisted in the box and sent a chipped cross right into the path of Lallana, who finished to give Liverpool the lead.
His involvement in the goal so early in the second half aided him as he continued to improve as the game went on. He became more confident and authoritative in the second half and hopefully we will see the second half Wijnaldum a lot more this season than first half Wijnaldum.
Klavan looked commanding at the back
It’s very rare that a team can concede three goals in a game but one of the centre halves was right up there and in with a shout for man of the match honours. Ragnar Klavan’s performance yesterday was overshadowed by the unbelievable attacking display which Liverpool concocted after the half time interval. But the 30-year-old put in an excellent display in his first game in English football proper.
The £4.2 million signing was expected to sit around and play in the cup games this season. Well that’s what most thought when Klopp sanctioned the move. Nobody really knew too much about the former Augsburg man and with three centre halves in Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip about to enter the prime of their careers it appeared Klavan would be a ‘just in case’ option that played in the cup games.
Yet ever since Klavan has come into the club and been thrust into the starting line-up due to injuries to Matip and Sakho, he has looked the part and barely put a foot wrong. The Arsenal game on Sunday was just a further example of how good a signing this man can be.
The experienced defender hardly put a foot wrong yesterday as he marshalled Alexis Sanchez expertly and stopped the Chilean influencing the game at all. He is strong in the challenge and makes the right decisions. He doesn’t look to overplay it; when the ball needs to be cleared, that’s exactly what he does.
Matip was probably watching on from the bench thinking of how he might be able to get back into the team as Klavan outshone fellow centre half Lovren. The two of them are also beginning to form a decent partnership as well, which can only improve with time and experience.
Klavan is a calming, no nonsense presence in the back four of Liverpool and one which they have been missing for a while. He acts like a leader and you can’t be anything but impressed with how well Klavan has settled into his new club and started his Liverpool career.
Strong impressions all round
All three have made a good start to the new season and hopefully they will continue to improve as the season goes on. Another tough test awaits in the next game with newly-promoted Burnley next up away at Turf Moor.
We will learn a lot more about these players in games like those against lesser terms, where Liverpool have generally struggled over the years. Right now though - things are looking very rosy for Liverpool and their new signings. But it must continue.