Liverpool prepare for another marathon season admitting they are not yet at their best

Manager Jurgen Klopp will use Community Shield encounter with Manchester City to test his new stars

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It has been a while since Liverpool won a Community Shield, the curtain-raiser to the English season and, until 2007, a trophy that no other club had held more often than they had. Partly to blame is that long drought of English league titles, a 30-year longing that was finally soothed in 2020.

They have not been so sharp on penalty shoot-outs in their last two appearances in the one-off showpiece either, losing to Manchester City and Arsenal via spot-kicks on the last occasions they took part.

Jurgen Klopp’s men would back themselves should Saturday's Community Shield against Manchester City go to penalties. They won two domestic cup finals last season that way, both against Chelsea, and in every competition they took part in during 2021-22 there were podium finishes.

Little doubt, though, that the silver medals – Champions League and Premier League – linger in the collective memory more than the golds in FA Cup and League Cup from a draining, record-breaking 63-match campaign in which the league title was only decided, in City’s favour, on the last matchday.

The European Cup was then kept from Liverpool’s grasp in large part by the inspired goalkeeping of Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.

A marathon of a season that entailed playing the maximum number of matches in every competition they entered now tailgates into a new campaign that Klopp describes as “very strange” because of its calendar.

Pre-season has been shorter than usual, the Community Shield bumped forward into July because of the relocating of the World Cup into November-December.

“It is a long season, with a break in between and [effectively] another preseason,” said Klopp, surveying a summer diary that has already included a tour to Asia and friendlies, within the last eight days, in Leipzig and Salzburg.

“We want to be ready for Saturday but it will be a big fight because we are not at our best. The only good news is City are in the same situation.”

The unspoken assumption here, as in the blue half of Manchester, is that Liverpool and City must first and foremost measure themselves against one another.

Liverpool were the last club to interrupt City’s sequence of Premier League titles; Liverpool have twice in the last four seasons entered matchday 38 with a chance of overtaking City at the summit of English football.

The impression that these two great modern squads stride ever upwards in tandem, step for step, has only been enhanced by their mirroring one another in the current transfer window.

They both swooped for powerful young, highly rated centre-forwards, Erling Haaland at City, and, at Liverpool, Darwin Nunez, who, if he reaches the potential Klopp sees in the 23-year-old Uruguayan, could earn Benfica close to €100m.

Liverpool 2021/22 season ratings

Both City and Liverpool allowed the departures of long-serving, more diminutive forwards: Raheem Sterling in the case of City, Sadio Mane, who was sold to Bayern Munich, in the case of Liverpool.

Mane will leave a gap, intensifying expectations on Nunez. Klopp resists comparisons mainly to ease the pressure on the newcomer.

They are also different sorts of footballer, the Uruguayan more raw and, naturally, less tuned to the aggressive, high-press, quick-on-the-break style that Mane, 30, came to epitomise in his seven years at Anfield.

A more relevant like-for-like would be between Mane and Luis Diaz, as significant a fresh arrival this calendar year as any at Anfield. The Colombian, signed from Porto in January, made a strong impression in his first six months, slotting into what had been Mane’s role on the left of the front three.

Diaz, Nunez, Diogo Jota, and, should he remain at the club amid keen interest from Juventus, Roberto Firmino are still an enviable quartet from whom to select complements for Mohamed Salah, whose commitment and continuing importance to Liverpool was endorsed when he signed a new contract in June.

In the attacking mix, perhaps even this weekend, are also the exciting Fabio Carvalho – outstanding for Fulham during their promotion from the Championship last season – and his fellow 19-year-old and Fulham academy graduate Harvey Elliott, whose serious ankle injury, sustained last September, looks merely to have postponed his breakthrough at senior level.

Both are long-term prospects but can expect opportunities as the Liverpool manager seeks elements of surprise within his tried, tested and successful formulas.

“We have a base, but we have to build on this base,” said Klopp by way of a mission statement for the season, “and be more unpredictable for other teams.”

Updated: July 29, 2022, 7:23 AM
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