By Jamie Barton (@jamieonfootball)
The following is a guest article by the aforementioned author and is not necessarily representative of opinions held by anyone at Empire of the Kop…
Ah, pre-season. That time of the year when everyone remembers that LFCTV exists, when unrealistic hopes are placed on the shoulders of a 17-year-old, and when Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain gets injured.
It’s utterly pointless to read almost anything into what goes on in the ever-shortening window between seasons. So, let’s begin.
Best player – Mo Salah
It was around Christmas of 2018 when I began to notice a shift in how people talked about Liverpool performances.
Players like Bobby Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri began regularly being discussed as man of the match.
When pressed further, those voting for them tended to concede that ‘Well, it’s obviously Mo Salah, but he can’t win it every week, can he?’
This has been the case once again during pre-season, with completely deserved praise for the likes of Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho masking the fact that the Egyptian has been on a diﬀerent planet this summer.
Liverpool’s No.11 is here to stay, and goals against Crystal Palace, RB Leipzig and Manchester City have seen him looking just as relieved with that fact as we are.
Most concerning – Luis Diaz
If that seems harsh, that’s because it is.
Luis Diaz already appears to be a very good signing and has pitched in with some crucial goals for the Reds, particularly in the Champions League.
Still, his return of six in 26 games for his new side exposes a slight lack of composure, which I had hoped he would improve upon during this pre-season.
The Colombian has not been bad this summer. He has the ability to beat anyone 1v1, and his pressing and tracking back are up there with Firmino’s, but he has snatched at chances and ends pre-season with neither a goal nor an assist.
Fulham on Saturday is the perfect opportunity to get oﬀ the mark when it really counts.
Best signing – Darwin Nunez
I think I speak for most when I say that Fabio Carvalho’s performances in pre-season have exceeded almost all expectations.
Signing a 19-year-old on a small fee tends to scream ‘one for the future’, but the No.28 has put in a real bid to be included in Jurgen Klopp’s first-team plans.
Still, when choosing our signing of the summer, scoring five goals in less than 200 minutes makes Darwin Nunez the natural selection (sorry).
When Real Madrid triumphed in the Champions League final two months ago, Carlo Ancelotti said that Los Blancos knew how to beat Liverpool.
In our No.27, Liverpool now have an elite attacker with a completely diﬀerent skillset, and he has wasted no time in showing it.
It’s of course early days, but his impact against Manchester City was hugely promising. It would be a big call not to start him at Fulham on Saturday.
Most likely to break into first-XI – Harvey Elliott
This one’s a bit of a cheat, I’m afraid, as had it not been for Harvey Elliott’s horrific injury at Leeds last season, he may well have replaced Jordan Henderson in Liverpool’s full-strength first-XI.
The then 18-year-old had started three of the first four games in a wide-No.8 position, which gave Trent Alexander-Arnold license to come further inside.
The latest iteration of Klopp’s tactical setup was coming into full focus before the youngster’s unfortunate setback.
He would return later in the season but could not pick up the momentum to break back into the side on a regular basis.
This summer was always going to be important for the lifelong Liverpool fan, and along with a new shirt number, his performances have brought renewed optimism.
The No.19 has flourished playing in an advanced role alongside a more traditional forward in Darwin Nunez, providing a glimpse not only into Liverpool’s long-term future, but also into the upcoming season.
Most likely to break into first-team squad – Stefan Bajcetic
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I’m a bit of a Liverpool nerd.
I know my Layton Stewarts from my Leighton Clarksons. But I’d be lying if I told you that I knew who Stefan Bajcetic was before a few weeks ago.
Now, as far as I am concerned, he is the future of the club and any chance we have of silverware over the next 15 years rests entirely on his shoulders.
At only 17, the Spaniard has been a commanding presence in the centre of the field throughout pre-season.
Against RB Leipzig, he was the only non-first-team-squad outfielder to feature, and he did not look out of place, winning the ball and sliding in Elliott to create Liverpool’s fourth.
When Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pulled his hamstring against Crystal Palace, it was rumoured that Tyler Morton’s loan deal to Blackburn might be put on hold.
Despite the extent of the former Southampton man’s injury now becoming clear, our No.80’s loan has been confirmed. It would not be a surprise to learn that this is because of Bajcetic’s form, nor would it be a surprise to see him line up for the first-team next season.
Best moment – Darwin’s goal vs Manchester City
Let’s get one thing clear: the Community Shield does not matter.
What does matter, however, is getting one over on your rivals in a game that it was clear both sides were desperate to win.
When Julian Alvarez’s equaliser was confirmed by VAR, Manchester City were jubilant (except Pep, of course).
That’s why, when Darwin Nunez sealed a Liverpool win 24 minutes later, the let oﬀ was up there with any important Premier League game.
The fact that this should stop those weirdos making any more fail compilations is the icing on the cake.
Worst moment – Diogo Jota’s injury
If you ever needed any more proof that football fans are obsessed with new, shiny things, then look no further than Diogo Jota.
On 20th January, the Portuguese scored goals number 13 and 14 of his season to almost single-handedly knock Arsenal out of the Carabao Cup and send Liverpool to the final.
He had earned himself an iconic song from the travelling Kop, and he looked set to become a mainstay of the Reds’ attack.
A week and a half later Liverpool had signed Luis Diaz, and despite Jota scoring three in his next two games, we had a shiny new toy. #
Fast forward to the summer and we now have a potentially record-breaking signing in Nunez.
Somehow, Jota has to prove himself all over again. Which is why it was a major concern to learn that he had suﬀered a recurrence of a hamstring injury sustained with his national side.
Having just signed a new long-term contract, the No.20 himself has said he should be back in a few weeks. That is welcome news, but the eﬀects of missing the entire pre-season remain to be seen.
Best facial hair – James Milner
The man can do no wrong.