By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
Liverpool were just too much to handle for Napoli as they cruised to a 5-0 friendly win at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Saturday.
A handful of players got on the scoresheet for the Reds – Mohamed Salah, Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno added their names to early strikes from James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum as Jurgen Klopp’s side put the Italians to the sword in this warm-up game.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker made his eagerly-anticipated debut in front of more than 50,000 adoring fans in Ireland, looking very solid on his first outing as a Liverpool player.
The Brazilian was not the only player to make his first appearance for the Reds this summer, as compatriot Roberto Firmino managed 45 minutes after returning from holiday following his participation at the World Cup.
The result continues a very positive pre-season in which the team has only tasted defeat once as youngsters and first-team players-alike have shone as the Anfield club prepares for their Premier League-opener against West Ham United next weekend.
For the Merseyside club, the game got-off to the best possible start as James Milner signalled his intent to fight for a place in Liverpool’s competitive midfield by scoring just four minutes in.
A massive kick from Alisson – which gained huge praise from fans – released Salah on the right. The ball found its way to Naby Keita who slipped it through to Sadio Mané on the byline. The Senegalese pulled-it back for the Englishman to fire-home into the top-left corner.
Wijnaldum joined Milner in throwing-down the gauntlet for a spot in the side when he headed-in a cross from the Yorkshireman to make it 2-0 before the clock had even reached double-figures.
Alisson had to make a smart save low-down to his right from a testing 20-yard effort from Lorenzo Insigne, prompting a huge cheer from the Liverpool faithful, which only increased in volume when he encouragingly claimed the cross for the resulting corner with ease.
Napoli were growing into the game at this point, and when Firmino’s goal was inexplicably chalked-off for offside, even though it was an Italian boot that had poked it to him, it was a sign that things were starting to go in Carlo Ancelotti’s side’s favour.
The balance would tip back in Liverpool’s favour after the break though, as the Serie A runners-up failed to clear a cross from substitute Xherdan Shaqiri and Salah took advantage of time and space in the area to unerringly slam the ball right into the top-corner.
The comfortable lead saw Klopp make five changes soon after, with many key players being rested and giving the likes of Sturridge, Moreno and Dominic Solanke a chance to impress.
James Milner was also replaced by Fabinho after a clash of heads with Mario Rui left him dazed and with a gash on his forehead, leaving his involvement against Torino at Anfield on Tuesday in doubt.
The cut on his noggin required 15 stitches after the match, though the player was reportedly in good spirits – Klopp joked after the game:
“He’s quite positive because he’s not been given a mirror yet!”
The upheaval didn’t stop the Reds’ momentum, however, as Sturridge went close twice in quick succession before finally scoring a rebound from Divock Origi’s saved shot – third-time lucky for the England international striker.
He would then go from goalscorer to provider when he launched a 60-yard pinpoint pass into Moreno in an advanced position, who took a few touches before slamming the ball into the roof of the net at Orestis Karnezis’ near-post to make it 5-0.
Alisson makes a good first impression, albeit in a game where he was rarely tested.
The Brazilian stopper inspired confidence from his teammates and fans-alike, making one-or-two decent saves while showing strong command of his area and a penchant for accurate distribution.
The 25-year old demonstrated his ability to pass the ball well over both great and small distances, picking-out wingers and forwards with well-placed long balls while also comfortably passing and receiving with his defenders in front of him.
If there is any criticism of his performance on his first outing, and this is being extremely harsh, it is that there was an air of slight overconfidence at times, almost giving the ball away on one-or-two occasions. Almost.
It was a friendly encounter in which Napoli provided little by way of attacking threat, and much sterner tests are yet to come for Liverpool’s £65m-man.
Still, it was a good start to life on Merseyside for Alisson, who impressed watching fans with his own ability while simultaneously taking all the spotlight off Loris Karius and his recent troubles in a Liverpool shirt.
Opportunity taken once-again for some of those fighting for places
Sturridge scored once-again, taking his tally for pre-season to five after goals against Chester, Blackburn and Manchester United.
By scoring repeatedly and consistently, he is giving Klopp a choice to make at the top end of the pitch and could start on the opening-day if Firmino is deemed not fit-enough to feature in a competitive match.
Despite grabbing a goal, the 28-year old spoke after the game of his dissatisfaction of missing the other two chances, telling Liverpoolfc.com:
“I’m happy but I don’t like to miss chances either, so I’m thinking about those ones more than the one I scored.”
Good attitude, Danny.
Also on the scoresheet were Milner and Wijnaldum, both of whom will be fighting the likes of Shaqiri, club captain Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Marko Grujic for the one-remaining starting berth alongside Fabinho and Keita.
Both came flying out of the blocks with their early striker, and the Englishman in-particular impressed by predictably covering every blade of grass before his untimely withdrawal through injury.
Henderson remains the likely candidate to be the more-regular starter, through his position as skipper, but last season’s Champions League assist king will still play an important role this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold hasn’t got the right-back spot tied-down just yet, and Klopp seems to be inClyned to agree
It was a solid-if-not-quiet performance for Nathaniel Clyne, who looked calm and composed in his hour on the pitch in Dublin.
The new father spent most of last season out with a severe back injury, but the excellent form of young Trent meant that he was hardly missed.
With the lengthy layoff and the 19-year old’s impressive performances, it’s easy to forget just how good Clyne is when he is fully fit.
With Klopp hoping to be competitive on all-fronts this season, squad depth will be key and we can expect to see these two heavily-rotating throughout the campaign with splashes of Joe Gomez and maybe even Rafa Camacho here and there.
Three-united, and it feels so good!
With all the hype around Alisson’s first appearance for the club, it was almost entirely overlooked that this was the first time this summer that the deadly trio of Salah, Mané and Firmino were all on the pitch at the same time.
They looked as potent as ever in their 45 minutes together, linking-up well and causing a lot of trouble for a Napoli defence that was frankly all-over the place.
There was only one lapse of efficiency, when, during a trademark counter-attack, Firmino ignored Mané to his left when he would have had an easy chance, instead playing it right to Salah.
By the time the Egyptian got the ball to Sadio, Raul Albiol had regained his position and was able to block his right-footed effort.
With a little more training and match practice, there is no doubt whatsoever that these three will be as potent and dangerous this season as they were last.