Van Dijk prompts transfer question
It takes a lot to down Virgil van Dijk.
So when the Liverpool defender let out an audible yelp before crumbling to the turf early in the second half, he could probably hear the collective gasp from those watching back on Merseyside fearing the worst.
Replays, though, revealed Van Dijk had been cut above the right eye by a stray elbow from clumsy Red Bull Salzburg substitute Rasmus Kristensen, who would later deck Kostas Tsimikas in similar fashion.
Painful, yes, and requiring a staple or two, but not too much of a long-term problem.
However, the minor fright placed into sharp focus an ongoing transfer poser for Jurgen Klopp.
Do Liverpool need to buy another centre-back?
Dejan Lovren’s departure has left the Reds with three senior options. One of those, Joel Matip, has been absent since June and has started only one top-flight game in 10 months, although he could be back for the Premier League opener at Leeds United on September 12.
So when Van Dijk exited at the Red Bull Arena on Tuesday afternoon, Joe Gomez was instead partnered with Nat Phillips, who spent last season on loan at Stuttgart and has made just a solitary senior appearance for the Reds.
After that, the choice is limited. Fabinho could perhaps do a job at centre-back, albeit not for any length of time. And it’s far too early for any of the Academy hopefuls, as much as Billy Koumetio has stepped up over the last week.
Then there’s the question of a diminished competition for places, with Gomez less than stellar for most of the first half and responsible for Salzburg’s second goal.
Van Dijk will be patched up for the Community Shield against Arsenal on Saturday.
But his scare is a reminder to Liverpool of a situation that could well need addressing before the transfer window closes in October.
Klopp given midfield poser
If pre-season is usually an opportunity for fringe players to stake their claim, this abbreviated version has proven the opposite.
Jurgen Klopp has instead utilised the short warm-up programme to pretty much signpost Liverpool’s starting line-up for Wembley this weekend.
In truth, absences have in any case limited scope for experimentation, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Harry Wilson, Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson all missing.
And, if anything, the performance in Salzburg saw some likely starters in danger of playing their way on to the bench.
What did you make of Liverpool’s performance vs Salzburg? Let us know in the comments below
Fabinho relies on rhythm, and takes time to regain his form after any spell on the sidelines.
The short turnaround in seasons, however, means that luxury isn’t available, and his fitful display here – epitomised when mugged for Salzburg’s opener – has put pressure on his place, not least with Gini Wijnaldum solid, Naby Keita energetic and both Curtis Jones and James Milner making a positive difference from the bench.
Neco Williams had a tough time at right-back as his learning curve became apparent – Milner would be another option in the position – while Takumi Minamino and later two-goal Rhian Brewster were lively in a way the disappointing Roberto Firmino was not.
Klopp’s Wembley selection has become more difficult in a way he wouldn’t have wanted.
Salzburg show the Arsenal way
As preparation for Saturday, the first 20 minutes was absolutely ideal.
Having gifted Arsenal two goals in their 2-1 defeat at the Emirates last month, Liverpool were once again handing out presents in the face of some simple high pressing.
The Gunners are unlikely to change their approach too much, having had further success with it in beating Manchester City and Chelsea to win the FA Cup.
Klopp, then, knows his team needs to be switched on mentally as much as anything else this weekend.
Of course, it’s always dangerous drawing conclusions from pre-season friendlies. Had this been a competitive game, Jerome Onguene would have seen red for upending a clean-through Sadio Mane in the first half rather than being given a ticking off and a yellow.
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And those irked by an admittedly below-par Liverpool display should remember how the anguished reaction to comprehensive defeat to Napoli at Murrayfield last summer was ultimately extremely misplaced.
Salzburg, surprisingly robust throughout, had already played several more warm-up games and that sharpness was evident in the opening half-hour, while Liverpool, at least in that difficult period, showed signs of having spent a week in training camp.
That makes a difference. And so too, thankfully, did the 1,250 supporters who were allowed inside to watch, making this the first time the Reds had played in front of fans since March.
A small step. But a sign football, how we know and love, is on its way back.