The Reds lost the final of the pre-season tournament on a penalty shootout to Atletico Madrid, but played well overall.
It would be foolish to read too much into a good performance in pre-season, right? Well, maybe, but maybe not too. There is evidence that a strong warm up to a campaign can lead to a team performing better than they did in the previous season.
Lest we forget, Liverpool beat Barcelona 4-0 at Wembley last summer. They then went on to record their best opening half season in the Premier League era. ‘Correlation vs causation’ and all that, but if a handsome pre-season win achieves nothing more than a shot of confidence ahead of the real business, then that’s still no bad thing.
Liverpool played superbly in the semi-final
The Reds will certainly have taken plenty of heart from their 3-0 win over the tournament hosts, Bayern Munich. They may have had fewer shots in total than the home side, by 14 to 12, but they had more in the box (nine to four) and, crucially, had far more shots on target.
Whilst Loris Karius in the Reds’ goal only had a single shot to save, Liverpool had six attempts on target. This means Klopp’s men had at least six in all of their first six pre-season encounters. It can only bode well for the new season that Klopp’s team are regularly testing opposition goalkeepers.
Roberto Firmino assisted Sadio Mané four times in 2016-17, which was the most of any duo for Liverpool. They also linked up for the opening goal against Bayern, keeping their connection going in Mané’s second pre-season match.
Mohamed Salah continued his impressive form since signing by bagging the second, and a wonderful pass from young Ben Woodburn played in Sturridge for the third. Another fine goal was ruled out, probably correctly, but both Ryan Kent and Marko Grujic played important parts in setting up and finishing the move respectively.
If your key players are finding form, then pre-season is worth it’s weight in gold. If some of the fringe and youth elements of the squad can contribute too, then all the better. Liverpool managed to do all of this and keep a clean sheet against the might of Bayern Munich. Their veins must be awash with confidence right now.
The final was a different challenge
The following night the Reds took on Atletico Madrid. It was a very different match, as it was always likely to be. Atleti are a team cast in the image of their no-nonsense manager, Diego Simeone. The game was certain to be a much tighter affair, and so it proved.
There was very little in it. The Spanish side took the lead after exposing some poor Liverpool defending. James Milner failed to prevent a cross, which allowed Sime Vrsaljko to set up a chance for Angel Correa. Danny Ward made a superb save to keep the shot out, but Keidi Bare was left unmarked by the Reds’ centre-backs to head into the net.
It was 55 minutes before Atleti had another shot, but then they didn’t need one either. Simeone’s side are masters at closing down a match and restricting chances for the opposition. This is especially true once they have a lead to protect.
So it proved. Liverpool only had four shots in the second half prior to the 82nd minute when Divock Origi won a contentious penalty. Firmino slotted it away, and at full-time a penalty shootout was used to decide who claimed the Audi Cup.
Henderson missed his spot kick, Atleti scored all five of theirs, and the cup was heading to Spain. After the match, Klopp said “Atletico wanted to win the cup. We did also, but we also wanted to play football, Atletico only wanted to win the cup.” The German manager will have been disappointed with Simeone’s spoiling tactics, but equally they won’t have surprised him.
The outlook is positive for Liverpool
Across two nights, a strong Liverpool team comfortably beat the German champions on their own patch, and then a weaker Reds side came back to draw with a crack defensive unit (albeit one that wasn’t at full strength either). There were plenty of positives to take, and Kopites will hope that these transfer into the season proper. History suggests that they will.