In this year of all years, post and pre-season have largely meshed into one, and now with the addition of internationals a week out from the season, Liverpool’s title defence has begun like no other has.
Barely a month after finishing the 2019/20 season, the Reds were in Austria on a training camp and it will be less than two months inbetween seasons when they play host to Leeds United on September 12.
Jurgen Klopp oversaw two friendlies with his side during the camp, against Stuttgart and RB Salzburg, and had the added luxury of Saturday’s Community Shield as preparation ahead of the new campaign.
The strange nature of the football calendar has meant that the entire squad has more or less been together from day one of the pre-season has meant plenty of rotation, but some players have missed out on minutes that might have come to their benefit.
Liverpool's pre-season winners
Takumi Minamino has been a big success in the first three games. Playing 45 minutes in both the friendlies and just over half an hour in the Community Shield, he looks to have well and truly arrived after joining the club in January.
Interestingly he has played on the left-hand side in those three appearances, with the first two coming in a 4-3-3, while his and Naby Keita’s introduction against Arsenal prompted Klopp to shift to a 4-2-3-1.
Minamino’s tendency to come inside from the left and find space between the lines was a game-changer for the Reds at Wembley – in 31 minutes he amassed more touches in the box than Mohamed Salah did in 90 and had two shots on target.
But the most important thing for the Japanese was opening his account for the club with a well-taken finish at close rabge. The former Salzburg man also hammered home his penalty in the shootout.
Virgil van Dijk hailed the 25-year-old “coming out of his shell” while his manager said “he can be a real player for us” after promising signs in his development ahead of the new season.
Another forward that has enjoyed pre-season is Rhian Brewster. The 20-year-old travelled to the Austrian camp after a successful loan spell with Swansea last season and hit the ground running, netting three times in the Reds’ two friendlies.
Cruelly for the youngster it was his penalty that lost the Community Shield, though. He came off the bench and crashed his spot kick onto the crossbar, perhaps a momentary rush of blood after having not touched the ball in his mere seconds on the pitch.
His form has earned another call up to the Young Three Lions for the upcoming international break and with a host of Premier League clubs set to be keen on taking him on loan, this looms as a breakout year at the top level for Brewster.
I am not 'impressed' because I know already which kind of quality he has.Gini Wijnaldum on Rhian Brewster's finishing
Keita has looked sharp, continuing on from his form in Project Restart, while Marko Grujic has performed well to ask a question of the staff as to his suitability to a role in the team.
Liverpool's pre-season losers
After his least prolific season in English football last term, Roberto Firmino would have been looking to hit the ground running in pre-season and appeared to have done so when he opened the scoring against Stuttgart.
But the Brazilian was sluggish against Salzburg and particularly so at Wembley on Saturday, and with both Minamino and Brewster in form, Klopp might well have reason to make a big call.
Away from his impotence in front of goals, even his distribution appears to be dwindling – his 76% pass completion rate was better only than Neco William’s accuracy among Liverpool’s starters. His 43 touches were also third lowest out of the starting outfielders.
He will undoubtedly continue to be a key player for Klopp, but as he approaches his 29th birthday and with younger options behind him, a continued battle for form could put the manager in an interesting situation.
His countryman Fabinho has also been uncharacteristically poor thus far. At fault for one of the goals against Salzburg and largely bypassed throughout that game, Liverpool’s No. 3 has looked short of his dominant best.
As Thiago is linked evermore with an Anfield switch, Fabinho could find his position under some unlikely peril provided he fails to recapture some of his best form.
Injured trio Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri all came into pre-season with points to prove and places to fight for in the side, but after picking up knocks in Austria none have featured in the three games.
With the games coming thick and fast there is opportunity for these players to make amends, but it may prove difficult to recapture momentum starting from scratch while their team-mates have gathered momentum.