Liverpool 3 Athletic Bilbao 1: Reds end impressive pre-season with win

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Liverpool’s pre-season ended with the same assurances and concerns with which it started.

Going forward, there will be no more entertaining show in the Premier League than an afternoon in the company of Klopp’s side, and if Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino maintain this form it will not just be Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mane hogging the man-of-the-match awards at Anfield.

Youngsters Ben Woodburn and Dominic Solanke also underlined their blossoming reputations with splendid goals in a 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao. There is much to admire but defensively question marks remain. There was a reason Liverpool found themselves in so much trouble prioritising Virgil Van Dijk, and their final warm-up game at The Aviva Stadium was further proof that while Liverpool can be exhilarating in possession, they can be vulnerable without it.

Even in defeat Bilbao did enough to highlight traits that have been contaminating Liverpool for years – namely basic defensive errors. Bilbao did not get to attack much, but when they did they looked dangerous without having to do much.

Trent Alexander-Arnold of Liverpool
Trent Alexander-Arnold appears to have earned a starting spot at right-back in Klopp’s team Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Liverpool appear to be awaiting Southampton to change their mind and sell their rebellious Dutchman, but if the Saints refuse to buckle the lack of an alternative might prove the first Anfield error of this campaign.

Within the space of five days, Klopp’s claim of a much deeper Liverpool squad has looked debatable. They arrived in Dublin without five senior players – captain Jordan Henderson (virus), joining Coutinho (sore back), Daniel Sturridge (thigh), Nathanial Clyne (back) and longer-term absentee Adam Lallana (thigh) on the sidelines.

Klopp was forced to re-organise, with James Milner returning to midfield and Marko Grujic and Divock Origi given an opportunity. In terms of their attacking zest it was not so undermining – especially as the youngsters excelled in the second half – although the Belgian striker was not clinical enough early on.

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Origi should have scored twice within 20 minutes, missing two easy chances. The first would have been a beauty following an exchange of one-touch passing with Salah and Firmino. Origi was sent clear but failed to hit the target when facing Bilbao keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

The striker ought to have done better on 17 minutes when Salah crossed to the backpost, this time Origi nodding off target.

Liverpool eventually took the lead on 21 minutes when the excellent Firmino saw shoved by Inigo Lekue, the Brazilian dispatching the resulting penalty.

Firmino penalty
Firmino opened the scoring from the penalty spot Credit: REUTERS

But when Bilbao broke forward they found space too easily, Henderson missed in front of the back four and the central defenders and left back Alberto Moreno less than convincing when tested.

Inaki Williams’ pace was a constant threat and he got the better of Dejan Lovren before finishing expertly past Simon Mignolet for a 30th minute equaliser.

Klopp made ten changes at half-time, which put this game into some perspective. He has some promising youngsters who are maturing well. Ryan Kent is full of tricks and will be a fine loan signing if Klopp does not retain him.

Woodburn put Liverpool back ahead just before the hour with a drilled left foot from the edge of the penalty and there was more confidence from there.

Solanke scored with a superb header
Solanke scored with a superb header Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Ragnar Klavan then crossed for Solanke, who scored his third of the pre-season – a well placed header – on 79  minutes.

The ceremonial nature of the fixture was best summed up by the fact Klopp sent his two assistants, Peter Krawitz and Zelko Buvac on a scouting mission to Hoffenheim to watch the upcoming opponents in the Champions League qualifier.

It gets real from here. Many opponents will fear Liverpool this season. Warm-up games or not, at times they have been thrilling in their eight friendlies.

But those rivals will also know they may not have to do too much to hurt them – Klopp still has work to do to eliminate his club’s propensity for self-harm in defensive affairs.

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