Look at the results and you would think Liverpool’s pre-season tour of the United States was not successful.
Following defeats against Borussia Dortmund and Sevilla, the Reds finished with a 2-2 draw against Sporting Lisbon, playing in extreme conditions and on ill-suited pitches.
Can the Reds finish pre-season on a high?
Now they will leave America for a match against S.S.C Napoli in Edinburgh and then a training camp in France, including an encounter with Olympique Lyonnais in Geneva, all before the season gets underway against Manchester City in the Community Shield.
Yet whilst the Reds finished winless in the States, it was far from a failed trip.
Liverpool need the extreme training and pre-season matches against top-class opposition in order to prepare them for the most important element – the season itself.
At this stage, it is all about fitness for the senior players, building up their reserves for the long season ahead, especially so in Liverpool’s case.
Seven competitions await the Reds this season, following their hugely successful 2018/19 campaign, playing in a style that is demanding on the body and difficult to carry out consistently, such is the intensity that Jürgen Klopp demands from his players.
Yet pre-season is also about form when concerning the youngsters, those prospects on the fringes of the first-team and seeking to make a breakthrough in the coming season away from the reserves.
Liverpool’s tour of the United States provided a great opportunity for Klopp’s younger players, given the likes of Alisson, Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Naby Keïta and Xherdan Shaqiri were all absent through either injury, competition or holiday.
Following the tour, Liverpool’s youngsters can be placed into three categories heading into the start of the season, though some of the names in these categories could move around depending on the final two fixtures of pre-season.
Brewster set for the big time at Anfield
In the first category are those youngsters who will be presented with clear opportunities in the first-team, with their continued presence in the team subsequently dictated by their performances.
Rhian Brewster is the standout figure here, with Klopp repeatedly insisting that Brewster will have a big role to play in Liverpool’s attack, despite not playing a single minute of Premier League football.
The 18-year-old would have been part of the first-team squad sooner if it had not been for the serious injury he suffered last year, denting his development compared with his young breakout English peers – Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Phil Foden.
Klopp rates Brewster so highly that Liverpool’s manager could be prepared to take the risk of no attacking reinforcements this summer, if his targets are not available, and rely on Brewster’s breakthrough to support the golden, but a surely fatigued trio of Salah, Firmino and Mané.
Despite the potential prominence of Liverpool’s other youngsters for the season ahead, it is likely that Brewster will play more minutes for Liverpool than all of the rest combined.
Liverpool’s youthful Dutch defensive duo
Nevertheless, Sepp Van den Berg and Ki-Jana Hoever are two Dutch talents who will see first-team action this season, most likely to start within the domestic cups.
Hoever has already made his Liverpool debut at just 16 years of age, against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the FA Cup last season.
Meanwhile, Van den Berg is Liverpool’s only signing so far this summer, captured from Holland despite strong interest from across Europe, including Bayern Munich.
He was given a few minutes at the end against Sporting Lisbon, to the delight of Liverpool’s American fanbase, but there will be much more to come from the supremely talented youngster, who has been brought in as part of the first-team squad, despite only being 17.
Ajax even looked at Van den Berg as a potential replacement for superstar youngster Matthijs de Ligt, so whilst this summer may seem threadbare for some Liverpool fans, it could become one of their most important in the years to come should van den Berg fulfil his potential.
Hope for Larouci, Jones and Wilson?
The next category sees those who would remain on the fringes of the first-team squad, but with the chance of occasionally featuring in the cups or if the Reds suffer numerous injuries.
Yasser Larouci enjoyed the biggest breakthrough in pre-season alongside Brewster, but the latter was already well-known. Larouci looked to be on course to potentially serve as Andy Robertson’s understudy as left-back, such were his progressive performances and Liverpool’s difficulty in the transfer market, until he was viciously brought down by Joris Gnagnon in the ‘friendly’ against Sevilla.
Whilst fortunate not to suffer a more serious injury, Larouci’s momentum was brought to a crashing halt by that terrible challenge and the 18-year-old will be on the sidelines for a few weeks. Therefore, he will have to work his way back into the first-team squad without having more pre-season games to try and impress.
Curtis Jones and Harry Wilson are also in this category, with Wilson approaching a crossroads in his Liverpool career. The 22-year-old Welshman enjoyed a fine campaign on loan at Derby County, scoring 18 goals in the Championship, but Liverpool is another level entirely. He performed adequately on the tour, but will that be enough to convince Klopp?
Another loan or a transfer, if Liverpool’s reported £20m price tag is met, could see Wilson out of Liverpool’s door and Klopp’s thoughts for good, but the lack of transfer activity might just give him one final chance to impress in the first-team squad.
Should he remain, however, Wilson would remain behind Divock Origi, Shaqiri and Brewster, let alone Liverpool’s main front three.
Not enough places for everyone in red
The final category belongs to those youngsters who will most likely continue to develop in Liverpool’s reserves and act as emergency options for the first-team, or move on to continue their careers elsewhere – in either case not impacting the first-team for this season.
Nathaniel Phillips’ career at Anfield seems to have stalled with injuries, and he is behind the likes of Hoever and Van den Berg.
Adam Lewis was also overtaken by Larouci, though the battle may have been balanced out by the latter’s injury on the tour.
Ryan Kent is reportedly on the transfer market, and if no deal materialises then he will probably return to Steven Gerrard’s Rangers for a second loan spell.
Ben Woodburn also appears set for another loan, with his record-breaking exploits as Liverpool’s youngest goalscorer, against Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup three years ago, now a distant memory in Brewster’s presence and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s transition to the first team.
Woodburn’s progress has stuttered by contrast, and a future Liverpool career appears unlikely now. Bobby Duncan may enjoy a different and ultimately successful path compared to Woodburn, but for now should and will remain in the reserves.
Liverpool have a crop of youngsters with varying levels, expectations and situations at the club. Managing their progress and futures could help fill the gaps within the first-team squad, especially given Liverpool’s quiet summer transfer window.