Nunez vs Firmino, Van Dijk's partner & Carvalho's quality - What we've learned from Liverpool's pre-season

Darwin Nunez Virgil van Dijk Liverpool 2022-23

Having come agonisingly close to immortality last season, Liverpool’s aim this time around is simple: same again, but even better.

The Reds will be among the favourites for both the Premier League and Champions League, both of which narrowly eluded them last time out. They will also defend the two domestic cups they won in such dramatic circumstances at Wembley.

On Saturday, they will face champions Manchester City in the FA Community Shield at Leicester’s King Power Stadium.

Twenty-four hours later comes a friendly against Strasbourg at Anfield, before the league season begins at Fulham on August 6.

Pre-season has seen a mixed bag of results, with convincing wins over Crystal Palace offset by a heavy loss against Manchester United in Bangkok and, on Wednesday night, a narrow 1-0 defeat to Austrian champions Salzburg.

Drawing definitive conclusions from such games is rarely wise, but here’s what GOAL has learned from watching Jurgen Klopp’s side this summer…

  1. Nunez ready to go but Firmino has a big role to play
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    Nunez ready to go but Firmino has a big role to play

    With Diogo Jota injured, the battle to start the season as Liverpool’s centre-forward looks to be a straight fight between Roberto Firmino and Darwin Nunez.

    The past versus the future? You could say that, although one would be foolish to dismiss Firmino’s importance just yet. There have been a lot of rumours linking the Brazilian with Juventus recently, but Liverpool’s stance is clear: he’s going nowhere this summer.

    He’s into the final year of his contract, but if he can steer clear of the niggles which befell him last season, then he should have a big role to play in what looks like being his farewell campaign.

    Nunez, though, represents the long-term as well as the here and now. And while there is clearly a way to go before he is fully integrated into Jurgen Klopp’s side, the signs of pre-season are promising, to say the least.

    Having taken Leipzig to the cleaners last week, he drew a blank against Salzburg, but yet again we saw signs that the Uruguayan is settling at his new club.

    He makes good runs, always on the shoulder of the last defender, and the quality of his team-mates means he frequently finds himself in excellent positions in front of goal. And he certainly isn’t afraid to take a shot.

    There are areas to tidy up, in terms of his touch and his reading of his colleagues, but that is to be expected. For now, Nunez is looking just fine. 

    Ready, surely, to lead the line at Fulham a week on Saturday?

  2. Van Dijk locked in but who partners him?

    Van Dijk locked in but who partners him?

    There was a time, not so long ago, when Klopp would have killed to have just one fit, high-quality centre-back. Now, he has four of them, and some tough calls to make as a result. 

    We know that one of them will start most Premier League and Champions League games. Virgil van Dijk’s recovery from that serious knee injury has been as impressive as it has been important, the Dutchman slotting back into his role as Liverpool’s defensive leader with style and panache last season. He will, again, be one of the first names on Klopp’s teamsheet.

    Who partners him, though? And how much does it actually matter? In Joel Matip, Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez, Klopp has three superb options, which must make him the envy of managers across Europe.

    Matip featured the most last season, making 43 appearances in all competitions, but it was Konate who started all three finals the Reds reached, looking very accomplished when doing so. At 23, the Frenchman represents the future, for sure.

    So, too, should Gomez. His game-time was certainly limited last season, with only 11 starts in total, but the England international signed a new long-term contract in the close-season and says he is ready to fight for his place. 

    Good news for Klopp, and for Liverpool. He wasn’t great against Salzburg in all honesty, Gomez, but he and Van Dijk, don’t forget, were the partnership which delivered the Premier League title in 2019-20. 

    So, if that’s the calibre of your ‘fourth choice’ then you’re in pretty good shape.

  3. Carvalho’s time will come soon enough

    Carvalho’s time will come soon enough

    So we’ve talked about one of Liverpool’s shiny new attackers, but what about the other?

    Fabio Carvalho’s arrival at Anfield was a little more low-key than Nunez’s, but there is ample reason to suspect the 19-year-old can be every bit as effective a signing.

    The former Fulham prospect has had a pre-season packed with promise, one which suggests it won’t be long before he makes a mark on Merseyside.

    Playing predominantly from the left, either as an advanced midfielder or as part of the front three, Carvalho’s talent is clear. His control is sublime, he always looks to connect with his team-mates, in particular good pal Harvey Elliott, and he has both speed and awareness in abundance.

    He won’t go straight into the side - though how he and Elliott would love to start the Premier League opener against their former club - but his time will come, for sure. 

    Pretty soon too, if you’re asking for the smart bet.

  4. Intensity remains the Reds’ identity

    Intensity remains the Reds’ identity

    When you come so close to something special, and when you put so much into that pursuit, it can often be hard to go and chase the dream again. 

    Liverpool, generally, have been good at responding to disappointment under Klopp, doing so with hunger and clarity of vision. After losing the Champions League final in 2018, they won it the following year. After missing out on the title by a point in 2019, they won it by 18 the next season. 

    So, after going close to both those competitions last season, how will Klopp’s side react? Sit and sulk, or dust themselves off and try again?

    What do you think? “Our identity is intensity,” says Pep Lijnders, Klopp’s assistant, and even in pre-season that mantra has been there for all to see.

    Liverpool’s tempo has been good, their aggression has been there and throughout the squad there is strong competition, which can only bode well for what lies ahead in a World Cup-disrupted season.

  5. Bajcetic has caught Klopp’s eye
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    Bajcetic has caught Klopp’s eye

    There’s always one, isn’t there? Each year, a youngster will step up from nowhere and serve notice of their potential in pre-season.

    It was Kaide Gordon last summer, Billy Koumetio the year before. This time around, Stefan Bajcetic is the one who has caught Klopp’s eye. 

    There is something about this 17-year-old that just looks right. There’s a composure, a confidence, an understanding of what to do, both with and without the ball, which make you believe he has a chance of making it. 

    It won’t be easy, of course, but academy staff were mightily impressed by Bajcetic after his arrival from Celta Vigo in February 2021, and Klopp and his first-team coaches have certainly made note of the Spanish youth international’s talent this summer. 

    The fact that he can play centre-back as well as in midfield can only help his course, but it is in the middle of the park that Bajcetic’s future lies. 

    And given Liverpool will be due an overhaul in that area soon enough, he may well have timed his emergence to perfection.