Liverpool will contest the Audi Cup final against Atletico Madrid on Wednesday after they beat hosts Bayern Munich 3-0.
Jurgen Klopp’s side, who had already tasted victory in Germany this summer after beating Hertha Berlin at the weekend, spent long spells of the game holding off Bayern’s sustained possession before striking in deadly fashion on the counter.
Sadio Mane opened the scoring with little more than five minutes on the clock, latching onto a through-pass from Roberto Firmino and hammering home on the angle, while Mohamed Salah doubled the lead 10 minutes before the break.
Salah, Liverpool’s record signing, has wasted little time in showing his prowess for goal and nodded home his fourth of pre-season from close-range after Mane had shown great technique to set the overlapping Alberto Moreno free down the left channel.
Marko Grujic saw his finish perhaps harshly ruled out after a tremendous run from Ryan Kent, with an offside call against Adam Lallana, stood in front of the goalkeeper, loudly jeered by the travelling support.
A late deflected Robert Lewandowski free-kick and a low strike by Mats Hummels off the ensuing corner was as close as Bayern came to finding the net on home soil, before Daniel Sturridge wrapped up things in style with a lobbed finish — though appeared to injure himself in doing so.
Here are five things we learned from the Reds’ win at the Allianz…
(1) Sturridge the constant question mark
Even before kick-off there was a noteworthy point to reference: in a formidable-looking attacking line, Daniel Sturridge’s name was conspicuously absent. A strong showing thus far in pre-season from the striker and more than a few positive soundbites about him from the manager doesn’t seem to have changed one simple fact: he’s not in what Jurgen Klopp would likely consider his strongest XI.
It’s never wise to read too much into pre-season lineups, and in a two-day event there may be an element of mix-and-match in selections, but it will still be seen as reflective of an order of preference for Klopp when Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino all managed to find a place in the side and Sturridge didn’t.
Having come on as one of the many second-half substitutes, Sturridge looked to immediately make his case by driving down the left channel and striking wide, but it was in the dying minutes of the match when he produced possibly the most brilliant and vexing moment of all Liverpool’s pre-season.
Freed into space once more, Sturridge coolly lobbed the ball over goalkeeper Sven Ulreich and into the net for the Reds’ third… yet immediately hobbled to the sidelines and was promptly subbed.
It’s a huge part of the reason why he remains outside Klopp’s first-choice line-up.
(2) Salah and Mane set to light up the Premier League
While Mane was many fans’ best player for Liverpool in 2016/17 and the signing of Salah is justified cause for excitement, there were questions over how they would operate in the same side, given they both played on the right side last term.
At the Allianz, it was the Egyptian who started on the right, Mane on the left, and it took them less than a quarter of an hour to confirm there was plenty of potential in the alignment.
Such a move might have been made with the expectation of enabling both players to attack in-from-out on their favoured foot, but Mane’s opener came with his left and Salah scored with his head.
Regardless of finding the net in pre-season, their ability to open up defences with rapid and repeated movement behind the defence would have pleased Klopp most of all, as well as the way they linked with each other in long-distance fashion. Bayern, playing high upfield for much of the first half, couldn’t cope.
(3) Karius still in Klopp’s thoughts
Whether or not the team is substantially altered for the second day of the Audi Cup, it was clear from the outset that this was extremely close to a full-strength Liverpool side.
With that in mind it might have been expected that Simon Mignolet, excellent at the end of last season, might have been the goalkeeper of choice, but instead it was Loris Karius who took his place between the sticks.
Karius didn’t have too much to do in the first half as the Reds’ fairly low defensive block stymied Bayern, but twice his good starting position allowed him to claim lofted passes from deep over back four as Robert Lewandowski looked to latch onto them.
As has been the case with the German stopper, though, a heart-in-the-mouth moment was to follow as he allowed a back-pass to slip under his boot on the sodden turf. He recovered, but Mignolet has been entirely error-free in his most recent run in the team, and if Karius wants the No1 spot for himself that’s what he’ll have to match.
(4) Questions remaining at full-back
With James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne hampered by summer injuries, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno filled the full-back slots once more.
The English youngster has impressed hugely since making his breakthrough, but Klopp has spoken at length about him needing to defend with more maturity before becoming a regular starter. Here, he was given an almighty test, up against an elite combination in David Alaba and Franck Ribery, and Klopp spent the majority of the first half directing not just Alexander-Arnold, but the more senior members of the team playing on that side of the pitch to help protect him.
Emre Can, on the right of the midfield three, was called into action to cover repeated runs in behind, while another switch saw Salah remain up front out of possession with the ever-willing runner Firmino drafted in to cover Alaba’s surges forward.
It was a difficult night for Alexander-Arnold, and in spells he did extremely well to stop crosses coming in, but it’s also worth noting he won’t be up against this sort of class anywhere near every week in domestic action.
On the opposite flank, Moreno has had his future questioned for some time but he put in a largely accomplished performance this time out, being especially involved in the Reds’ first-half counters after the ball was won in midfield. Moreno tested Ulreich with a curling free-kick, and soon after it was his acceleration past Mane which opened up Bayern and led to the second goal.
Time may still be running out for Moreno at Anfield, but he’s at least showing Klopp that, given the right circumstances, he has something to offer.
(5) Coutinho the No8
While Liverpool might have been disappointed in their attempts to snare Naby Keita this summer to bolster the midfield, switching Coutinho from his usual left-sided role into the centre of the park has given the team a new-ish dimension to their play.
In Brendan Rodgers’ reign it was not uncommon to see Coutinho operate as a No 8, and this summer has seen the schemer operating in that deeper area with some regularity once again.
Quick to accelerate into space — with or without the ball — after transitions, Coutinho’s body swerves and ability to send opponents the wrong way instantly opens up the pitch for Liverpool.
More importantly, there is now a huge amount of pace and movement ahead of him to send constant, imaginative passes forward, and this change might be the one which benefits Liverpool in 2017-18 more than any signing might have.