There can be false dawns and misplaced optimism in pre-season, but then some performances hint at a sign of things to come and there can only be positives for Liverpool following this Wembley rout of Spanish champions Barcelona.
Three days after cruising to a 4-2 victory against Premier League champions Leicester City in Stockholm, Barcelona found Liverpool a much more formidable opponent in London, with Jurgen Klopp’s team claiming an emphatic 4-0 victory against a Barcelona team including the likes of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Suarez, facing his former club for the first time since leaving Anfield two years ago, barely had a kick as Liverpool completed a morale-boosting win in front of a crowd of 89,845 – the second-highest ever recorded at the new Wembley.
With no European football to provide a distraction this season, Liverpool will only have domestic issues to focus on once the season gets underway. And having comprehensively seen off last season’s La Liga winners, Liverpool can use this victory as the foundation for a sustained challenge for a first English title success since 1990.
Having already played seven games during pre-season prior to this fixture, Liverpool will go into next Sunday’s Premier League opener against Arsenal at the Emirates without the fitness concerns of the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United following their disrupted preparations.
And Arsenal should be concerned about the momentum being built by Klopp’s players, who will complete their pre-season campaign with a friendly against Mainz in Germany on Sunday.
Having taken the lead through Sadio Mane on 15 minutes, when the £30m summer signing from Southampton scored his first goal for his new club after being released by Adam Lallana, Liverpool were forced to withstand Barcelona pressure for the remainder of the first-half.
Messi struck the post on 23 minutes after being freed by Suarez before goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saved well from Arda Turan prior to the Turkey midfielder shooting wide from the rebound from close range. Philippe Coutinho should have doubled Liverpool’s lead on 32 minutes when he dispossessed full-back Aleix Vidal and raced into the penalty area before shooting over Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s crossbar.
But having seen the Brazilian go close, Barcelona regained the upper hand when Messi ghosted past James Milner before crossing to Suarez, who was denied a clean shot by two defensive blocks from Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne.
Moments later, Milner, who announced his retirement from England duty on Friday, limped out of the game to be replaced by Alberto Moreno. Suarez, meanwhile, was unable to cut free from Lovren and new signing Ragnar Klavan until he was picked out by Munir on 41 minutes.
With a clear strike on goal, the Uruguayan seemed certain to score, but Mignolet rushed off his line to block the shot and further frustrate his former team-mate. The missed chances proved to be costly for Barcelona, who were visiting Wembley for the first time since defeating Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final, with Liverpool scoring twice inside the opening three minutes of the second-half to put the game beyond the Catalans.
Mane, whose pace troubled Barcelona throughout, created the second goal when his cross from the right was bundled into the net by former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano. And less than sixty seconds later, substitute Divock Origi made it 3-0 after being released by youngster Kevin Stewart, who had won the ball by dispossessing Sergio Busquets in mdfield.
Liverpool had chances to extend their winning margin, with Roberto Firmino wastefully shooting wide after ignoring the unmarked Mane on 53 minutes. And the impressive Mane went close to scoring his second, and Liverpool’s fourth, when he sent a curling left-foot shot wide of the post on 71 minutes. A fourth eventually arrived when Lazar Markovic scooped a pass to Marko Grujic to head in.
Whether Liverpool can build on this and prove that their pre-season was the real thing rather than a tantalising glimpse of hope, only time will tell. But any victory against Barcelona is something to shout about, especially one as emphatic as this.
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