Diaz, Doak and a smiling Salah: What to look out for at Liverpool’s Dubai training camp

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The Reds will take on Lyon and AC Milan as they prepare to attack the second half of the domestic season

It was a smiling Jurgen Klopp who touched down in Dubai on Monday, as he and his Liverpool squad arrived to a warm welcome at their team hotel. All eyes may be on Qatar right now, but for Klopp and his players the next 10 days are as important as any World Cup fixture.

The club football season resumes later this month, and Liverpool intend to be ready to hit the ground running when it does.

It is three-and-a-half weeks since the Reds were last in action, signing off for the mid-season hiatus with a 3-1 win over Southampton at Anfield. They headed into the break sixth in the Premier League table, off the pace but slowly improving, after a rotten start to the campaign.

They resume on December 22, when they take on rivals Manchester City in the fourth round of the Carabao Cup. After that comes a Boxing Day trip to Aston Villa, a home game with Leicester City on December 30 and then, to usher in the New Year, a visit to Brentford on January 2.

Plenty to prepare for, then, as Klopp’s men get down to business at the NAS Sports Complex. 

The manager will have a good chunk of his senior squad available as they undergo a “mini pre-season” in the United Arab Emirates. There will be intense training sessions, two-a-day for the most part, and two decent friendly fixtures, against Lyon and AC Milan, in the grandly-named Dubai Super Cup.

GOAL runs you through a few things to look out for in the coming days…

  1. Diaz's return
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    Diaz's return

    Liverpool named an initial 33-man squad for the Dubai camp, and the sight of Luis Diaz’s name on the list will certainly have had fans smiling.

    The Colombian has been out of action since injuring his knee in the 3-2 defeat at Arsenal on October 9, but he was back in full team training on Tuesday, and he should now feature at some point against Lyon and/or Milan.

    What a boost that will be for Klopp. Diaz was one of the few Liverpool players to perform at anything like his best level during the early weeks of this season, and his endeavour and quality has been badly missed.

    Last season, he arrived halfway through to give the Reds a huge shot in the arm in their quest for an unprecedented quadruple. “We needed him like water in the desert,” said assistant boss Pep Lijnders. 

    Could his return to action this time around prove similarly transformative?

  2. Jota and the other injury victims

    Jota and the other injury victims

    Diaz is not the only injured star set to make a return in Dubai. Joel Matip is fit again after missing close to two months with a calf problem, and should be able to train as normal with the rest of his team-mates. 

    With Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk both still in Qatar preparing for World Cup quarter-finals, Matip and Joe Gomez are likely, if fit, to be the centre-back pairing for Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium in that Carabao Cup tie.

    Diogo Jota has also travelled with the squad, but the Portugal international is still at least six weeks away from returning to light training after the calf tear he suffered against Manchester City on October 16. His presence in Dubai is merely so that he can continue his rehabilitation at close quarters to Klopp, his staff and his team-mates.

    The same goes for Arthur Melo, the Brazilian midfielder who has so far been limited to just 13 minutes of senior football since his loan move from Juventus. Arthur has a thigh problem that will rule him out until at least mid-January.

    Naby Keita, the club say, will also follow an “individual rehabilitation programme” in his recovery from a serious hamstring issue. The Guinea midfielder has not featured competitively since the Community Shield in July, but was training with his team-mates on Tuesday.

    And with his contract set to expire at the end of the season, there should be plenty of motivation for the 27-year-old to get himself into top condition.

  3. Salah and the seniors
    Getty Images.

    Salah and the seniors

    Klopp will, at least, have a good few of his go-to players available in Dubai. Chief among them is top scorer Mohamed Salah, who has enjoyed a rare break following Egypt’s failure to qualify for the World Cup.

    Salah has, if his Instagram account is anything to go by, been ticking over fitness-wise (when does he do anything else?!) and having scored 14 goals already in all competitions this season, he will be hoping to resume refreshed and ready to fire his side towards glory once more.

    The same goes for the likes of Andy Robertson, Thiago Alcantara and Roberto Firmino, who will look to use their World Cup disappointment in a positive manner, and first-teamers such as Matip, Gomez, James Milner, Kostas Tsimikas, Curtis Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho, who should ensure training standards are high throughout.

    And they will be supplemented, too, by Darwin Nunez, who will join up with the squad on December 12, having been given a week off following his World Cup exploits with Uruguay.

  4. Doak and the kids

    Doak and the kids

    What this trip also provides are opportunities for a few of the club’s talented youngsters to prove their worth.

    The most intriguing name on the 33-man list is that of Ben Doak, a Scottish winger who made his debut in the Carabao Cup win over Derby County last month, two days before his 17th birthday.

    Doak, signed from Celtic in the summer, has been ripping it up for the Under-18s so far this season, and the feeling inside Anfield is that he is a player of considerable first-team potential. He will surely benefit from being at close quarters with the likes of Salah, Diaz, Milner and Co. over the next 10 days.

    The same goes for the likes of Stefan Bajcetic, Bobby Clark, Melkamu Frauendorf and Layton Stewart, all of whom featured against Derby, while left-footed midfielder Dominic Corness has been added to the squad.

    Corness joins U23s colleagues Jarell Quansah, Jake Cain and Harvey Davies, while exciting winger Kaide Gordon, still only 18, could make his long-awaited return after close to 10 months out with pelvic injury.

  5. A new staff member

    A new staff member

    There will be at least one new face on the trip, with new club doctor Jonathan Power part of the travelling contingent.

    Hired after an extensive search following the surprise departure of Jim Moxon on the eve of the season, Power will begin work in Dubai, although it is understood he will not take over full responsibilities until January.

    Born in West Derby, he has previously spent four years as the England men’s team’s performance medicine doctor, and has worked for Brentford, as well as for the Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie rugby sides.

    Sporting director Julian Ward will also be in Dubai despite announcing his intention to step down from his role at the end of the season. Ward, who only replaced Michael Edwards in June, will continue fulfilling his duties as he serves his notice period, but it remains to be seen how Liverpool look to replace him. That process is being led by chief executive Billy Hogan and Klopp, with a host of names already linked with the soon-to-be-vacant role.

    In a wider sense, the uncertainty surrounding the club’s ownership remains, with reports in America suggesting that Fenway Sports Group are leaning towards a partial, as opposed to full, sale. 

    There have, however, been stories concerning a potential joint bid for the club from a Qatari-Saudi Arabian group, as well as reported interest from a German consortium, and with FSG yet to speak publicly beyond an initial statement, we can expect rumblings to continue for some time yet.

  6. Competitive games - but no Arsenal

    Competitive games - but no Arsenal

    Liverpool will play two games as part of their camp, both of which will be played at the 15,000-capacity Al-Maktoum Stadium as part of the Dubai Super Cup.

    First, they will take on Ligue 1 outfit Lyon on December 11 (2pm GMT kick-off), before facing reigning Serie A champions AC Milan on December 16 (3.30pm GMT).

    Arsenal will also be involved in the tournament, but the two Premier League clubs will not face each other, a move that is perhaps wise following the confrontational nature of their league meeting in October, and considering the battles likely to come in the future.

    All the Dubai games will, however, feature a penalty shootout, regardless of the result, with the winners receiving a bonus point. It means Liverpool’s relationship with Neuro11, the German-based neuroscience company, will again be brought into focus. The Reds have won each of their last four shootouts, including two to win trophies - the Carabao Cup and FA Cup - against Chelsea last season.