Liverpool ran out as comfortable winners over Napoli as the Reds’ notched five goals. The Anfield Talk’s Ronan (@ronan_orourke) was at the game, and here is his recap…
Liverpool Football Club returned from their North America tour with a bang in Dublin as they swept aside a Napoli side packed to the brim with elite European pedigree. The writing was on the wall early for the Italians as James Milner and Gini Wijnaldum both struck in the opening 15 minutes. Mo Salah also scored a beauty in the second half, Sadio Mané was unplayable at times, and Roberto Firmino looked very sharp considering he has barely been back in training a week. The class of last season definitely remains, but now it appears there is so much more to this team and that is a mouth watering prospect for us supporters.
Much of the pre-match anticipation focused on the debut of new goalkeeper Alisson Becker whose every save in the warmups, and every touch in the opening exchanges was greeted with warm cheers from the partisan local crowd. It was hardly a nerve free outing for imposing Brazilian but the air of positivity around the position for the first time in years is unquestionably a breath of fresh air. It was evident at least that his composure and ability of the ball alone will be a huge addition to this team. He was also a commanding presence on set pieces which is going to be a big asset as well.
There was a pretty special atmosphere in and around the Aviva Stadium especially for a pre-season friendly. As expected, the capacity crowd of over 51,000 was almost completely in Liverpool’s corner with only a sprinkling of Napoli supporters in attendance. It all started with a stirring rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone and there was a joyous feeling throughout. Our Reds, decked out in their new striking purple kits were purring magically all over the pitch and even when the subs came in, the pressure remained relentless. It really was a special, special performance.
Speaking of replacements, Xherdan Shaqiri made another brilliant second half cameo. The Swiss international already looks as if he’s been playing with his new teammates for years. There was no overhead kick this week but his impact was evident every time he touch the ball. He brings an electricity and unpredictably to proceedings which will put the fear of life into opponents this year. Already, every time he touches the ball I expect something to happen.
Danny Sturridge once again came into the team, and seemed determined once more to prove that he still has plenty to give. He scored one, but could have had a rapid fire hat trick. Then of course he also provided a world class assist to Alberto Moreno for the last and arguably most impressive goal of the day. The end may also be nigh for Divock Origi on Merseyside but he too had a very lively performance after being introduced. I would love to see the Belgian kept around but that remains to be seen.
I was already a huge Naby Keita fan but having seen him live has only enhanced his reparation in my eyes. There is not much out on the pitch that the man does not do, and you get the impression that he was even holding a little back in the combative stakes due to the friendly nature of the contest. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like seeing another player wearing the famous number 8, but Keita has already comfortably eased my nerves. He is going to be an absolutely vital cog in the Klopp machine and should hit the ground running.
Another pleasant surprise was the solid performance of Nathaniel Clyne. The emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold has left Clyne feeling like the forgotten man but he looked like again vintage Clyne at the Aviva. Rotating our two right backs depending on the opponent could be a very good strategy for Jurgen Klopp in the coming campaign.
Aside from the 5 star, 5 goal performance on the pitch there was even more to be impressed with. The players paid tribute once again to Sean Cox after the game, and went around the stadium handing out scarves and interacting with the masses. There has to be particular respect given to the increasingly forlorn Loris Karius who stayed a good while after the rest of the team had gone inside to sign autographs with of course the boss who stayed naturally the longest. What is so encouraging about Jurgen Klopp is that all his actions are so genuine. There is no sense of spectacle. He truly just wants to bridge the gap between the supporters and the team which had been slipping in recent years.
Overall, it was a wonderful day in the Irish sun that proved that this Liverpool team most importantly is well drilled for the first game of the Premier League against West Ham next week. The work has been done, the excitement is building and for good reason. The new signings are settling in nicely, and the depth in the squad seems to be massively improved compared with last season. One more friendly to go and then the real business begins.