Liverpool 1-1 Athletic Bilbao: Spoils shared on return to Anfield
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images,)

Liverpool's penultimate match of pre-season ended with spoils shared in a 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at Anfield.

With kick-off delayed due to errors within Anfield's new NFC ticketing system, the preceding football was a sight for sore eyes as the returning Reds put on a show for the home crowd in the first half.

Diogo Jota typically slotted home and put Jurgen Klopp's men in front in the opening fifteen minutes, while Alex Berenguer tapped in his side's response soon after half time.

In an otherwise entertaining exhibition, Liverpool's greatest concern now lies in the fitness of stalwart left back Andy Robertson, who hobbled off and will face a race against time to be fit for the opening Premier League encounter against Norwich next Saturday. 

  • Story of the match

The relatively subdued opening proceedings at Anfield were soon brought to life with youngster Harvey Elliott's wonderful lofted ball for Mo Salah, who was ultimately met by the sweeping Julen Agirrezabala.  

Diogo Jota was able to break the deadlock with 13 minutes on the clock, emphatically finishing with his weaker left foot for his second goal in three days.

Naby Keita latched on to some callous playing out from the back from the visitors, feeding to ball to Sadio Mane who guided it into the feet of the overlapping Portuguese to fire home. 

Jota was not far off from nabbing his second of the afternoon as the ever-electrifying Salah found himself in ample space to do some damage.

Salah elected to cross with the outside of the boot to his strike partner, whose consequential header was cleared off the line.

Liverpool played like a team putting on a show for the returning fans with wave after wave of attacking intent, such was the confidence in Klopp's men who were playing in front of a 40,000 strong crowd.

Nevertheless, it was not for the first time in the opening period had Inaki Williams got the better of Virgil van Dijk positionally when he received the ball in behind the defensive line and attempted to round Alisson, who recovered admirably.

The ever-present Williams, who Liverpool were once linked with, had a one-on-one chance saved again by Liverpool's returning Brazilian between the sticks, also putting it on a plate for Oihan Sancet who fired over.

A jovial opening forty-five minutes was abruptly bookended by an injury suffered by Andy Robertson, landing awkwardly on his right ankle while trying to recover the ball from a marauding Alex Berenguer.

Replacement left back Owen Beck's impact could have been instant as he teed up Jota to add to his tally, only for a mix up in the box with Mane to deny a good opportunity to extend the lead.

Bilbao were able to level five minutes after the interval through Berenguer, tapping home unmarked at the back post.

Williams was not marked closely enough when approaching the 18-yard area and was able to slip through a ball to Sancet, with the 21-year-old offloading to Berenguer across the face of goal to finish.

To the relief of the Liverpool faithful, Inaki Williams joined Iker Muniain and four other Bilbao players in the side's first batch of changes on the hour. 

Naby Keita's slight hesitancy in attack caught teammate Sadio Mane on his toes when passing to the open Senegalese star, the latter of whom nonetheless forced Agirrezabala to parry his driven effort. 

Harvey Elliott was inches away from capping off another stately pre-season showing with a Salah-esque sequence of play; being found in space on the right flank, stepping over the ball, cutting inside to release a venomous strike from his left foot onto the bar, but away from goal. 

Along with Beck, young talents Jake Cain and Tyler Morton were afforded some minutes in the final phases and will look to exert some influence against Osasuna on Monday as honours were even come Mike Dean's final whistle.

  • Key takeaways

Questions over Andy Robertson's fitness

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Such is the nature of following Liverpool Football Club over the last twelve months, a debilitating injury never seems too far away. 

Andy Robertson going down before half time clutching his right ankle evoked a collective groan of concern from many in Anfield. 

While it looks unlikely the Scotland captain will be ready for Norwich in six days, the deputising Kostas Tsimikas has been one of Liverpool's shining lights in pre-season and will look to impress on the big stage.

It was, after all, an ankle injury to former Red Alberto Moreno in the 2017/18 season that presented Robertson his chance to break into the team. 

van Dijk racks up the minutes

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A silver lining to the afternoon was the encouraging display of centre-back behemoth Virgil van Dijk. 

While perhaps not back to his imperious best, the Dutchman's presence in the Liverpool back line commands calmness from teammates and fans alike.

van Dijk, who missed out on participation for his country in Euro 2020 in order to focus on rehabilitation for the upcoming season, is coming off a cruciate ligament rupture that ruled him out of the last seven months of last season.

The 30-year-old, along with Joe Gomez, have both incrementally increased their minutes in red throughout the preseason, culminating in a 60+ minute outing for the former this afternoon.

Another impressive Elliott display

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Harvey Elliott has proved once again in his showing against Bilbao that he will be upon Jurgen Klopp's beck and call in 2021/22. 

The youngster's development in his loan spell at Blackburn Rovers last term caught the eye of many on Merseyside and has been rewarded with an opportunity to develop this preseason.

Today was no exception, playing in a perhaps more retracted role in order to accommodate for Liverpool's star power up top in the likes of Salah, Jota and Mane.

His silky movement and distribution were commendable traits of his game against Marcelino García Toral's men, and he was unlucky to not find the net with a thunderous hit that rattled the crossbar.