Darwin Nunez, Jordan Henderson & the six Liverpool players with points to prove during pre-season

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Nearly every member of Jurgen Klopp's squad have returned to Kirkby this week and some need to hit the ground running more than others...

Liverpool are back! Well, at the AXA Training Centre at least, with pre-season training having got under way earlier this week. The players are returning in dribs and drabs, owing to their various international commitments in recent weeks - Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones, for example, have yet to appear because of their involvement in England's triumph at the Under-21s European Championship, which was only wrapped up on Saturday night.

However, Jurgen Klopp expects to have an almost full-strength squad for their German training camp, ahead of next Wednesday's first friendly, against Karlsruher. Liverpool's first competitive fixture, the Premier League opener clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, is still more than a month away but you can be sure that several Reds will be determined to hit the ground running in pre-season.

Indeed, after a trying season that saw Liverpool fail to qualify for the Champions League, a significant number of players have plenty to prove ahead of the start of the 2023-24 campaign on August 13...

  1. Stefan Bajcetic

    Stefan Bajcetic

    The revelation of last season, Stefan Bajcetic's impressive run in the first team was cruelly cut short in March by an adductor injury. Before that, the Spaniard had been rewarded with a new contract shortly after becoming the third-youngest player ever to score for Liverpool.

    Mo Salah called Bajcetic the Reds' "best player" at one point, and he wasn't really exaggerating. He was playing so well before his season-ending injury, in fact, that he even started the first leg of the Champions League last-16 clash with Real Madrid - that's how much faith Klopp has in the kid.

    If he can now show in pre-season that he has made a full recovery from his thigh problem, then the fans will feel far less nervous about reports that Liverpool are unwilling to spend big on another defensive midfielder before the close of the transfer window.

  2. Joe Gomez
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    Joe Gomez

    This feels like a big summer for Joe Gomez ahead of a make-or-break season in terms of his Liverpool career. The man once considered the perfect partner for Virgil van Dijk has slipped down the centre-back pecking order and only featured once in the final 10 games of the 2022-23 Premier League campaign, and even that was in the meaningless 4-4 draw with Southampton on the final day.

    Staying injury-free has always been Gomez's primary problem. When fully fit, he's a mobile centre-back capable of filling in at right-back, meaning he is, in theory, made for Klopp's team, given Trent Alexander-Arnold has been recently given even more licence to attack.

    The question now is whether Gomez would be better served by a move away from Anfield, particularly with Ibrahima Konate expected to continue alongside Van Dijk at the heart of the Liverpool defence. So, whether he's looking to catch Klopp's eye, or attract interest from elsewhere, Gomez will definitely be determined to impress in pre-season.

  3. Joel Matip
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    Joel Matip

    Joel Matip is obviously an immensely popular figure at Liverpool, within the squad and among the supporters, but he’s in a somewhat similar position to that of Gomez. Again, injuries are an issue, but even when fully fit, Matip only featured in seven Premier League games in the second half of last season.

    Matip turns 32 next month, so there is no guarantee that he will still be at Anfield when the season gets under way. If an offer were to arrive for a player with one year left on his contract and a long history of niggles and ailments, it’s fair to say that Liverpool would seriously consider letting him leave.

    For now, though, Matip will be fully focused on getting himself in the best possible shape for the coming campaign.

  4. Fabinho


    Liverpool anticipated that certain key players might suffer something of a hangover from the historic quadruple bid in 2021-22. Mental and physical fatigue were inevitable after a Herculean effort ended in agony, with the Reds coming up just short in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

    However, what Liverpool did not expect was for Fabinho's form to fall off a cliff - and that hit the team hard, given the reliance on the Brazilian to sweep up everything in front of the defence. His listless displays led to the back four being brutally exposed.

    So, the question now is: was last season evidence of Fabinho's terminal decline or will he be back at his best in 20223-24? Pre-season should prove a useful indicator.

  5. Jordan Henderson
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    Jordan Henderson

    Jordan Henderson never shies away from a challenge. The mere fact that he's still at Liverpool, and now captaining the club, is down to his own remarkable resilience, which saw him through a very rough start to his Anfield career. He's not lost that knack for silencing his critics either, as he proved by playing an influential role in England's run to the quarter-finals of the 2022 World Cup.

    However, he's got a serious test on his hands now, with summer signings Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai set to immediately slot into Liverpool's three-man midfield. The pair will be given time to settle, of course - Klopp has been at pains to point out that Szoboszlai, in particular, will not be placed under any pressure to start producing world-class displays right away.

    The fact that remains, though, is that the two new guys are expected to end up flanking Fabinho. Henderson, then, will once again need to issue a reminder of his quality and leadership skills if he is to get the nod ahead of Fabinho, or even Bajcetic, as the starting 6 - or hold onto one of the No.8 roles. Pre-season would be a good place to start staking his case for inclusion.

  6. Darwin Nunez
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    Darwin Nunez

    No Liverpool player will come under more scrutiny in pre-season than last summer's big-money buy from Benfica. Nunez finished up as Liverpool's second top-scorer last season, with 15 goals in all competitions, and he also created plenty of chances for his team-mates.

    However, Darwin spent an awful lot of time on the bench towards the tail end of last season, meaning there's just no getting away from the fact that his first year on Merseyside threw up more questions than answers. The competition for attacking berths is going to be intense this season, particularly with Luis Diaz fully fit again, so the pressure is very much on Nunez to show exactly why Liverpool were willing to pay an initial £64 million ($82m) for his services.

    Because one thing's for sure: the usual struggles in settling into a new country and a low level of English won't be considered acceptable excuses for poor form in his second season on Merseyside.