Forty days since becoming champions of Europe for a sixth time, and minus most of the talent that landed the prize in Madrid, Liverpool returned to action in the more earthy setting of Tranmere’s Prenton Park. Divock Origi was off the bench and on the scoresheet once again but it was the youngster Rhian Brewster who revelled in a first senior start under Jürgen Klopp to suggest he is ready to make up for lost time.
The 19-year-old has endured a torrid time with injury since emerging on the global stage in 2017 but is viewed by Liverpool’s manager as the natural replacement for Daniel Sturridge, aka Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. “Rhian is a top striker,” said Klopp; “He is a top talent and I have told him already that he has an important role this year but how important depends on him. We will see. He has to play different positions – the centre, wing is possible I think, but there will be opportunities for him I am sure.”
Brewster struck twice in the traditional curtain-raiser against Micky Mellon’s team while 18-year-old Bobby Duncan, cousin of Steven Gerrard, was also on the mark in his first senior appearance. A show of young firepower was welcome for Klopp given the number of senior absentees from his pre-season preparations. It will also have confirmed to Harvey Elliott, watching on ahead of his move from Fulham, that Liverpool offers opportunity to teenagers willing to grasp it.
Relentless demands on today’s top internationals meant Liverpool started their pre-season for 2019-20 before Sadio Mané had finished his 2018-19 campaign. The Senegal forward will be involved in the semi-final of the Africa Cup of Nations on Sunday, and potentially the final next Friday, leaving him little time to prepare for the Premier League opener against Norwich on 9 August once a holiday has been taken. Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have only just begun their well-earned breaks following international duty.
With Xherdan Shaqiri expected to miss most of pre-season with a calf injury sustained in the Nations League, the Champions League winners will be short of established attacking options for several weeks. Little wonder the first person Klopp sought out for an arm-around-the-shoulder before kick off was Origi, fresh from signing a new long-term contract on Wednesday and required to continue the form that was so decisive in Liverpool’s Champions League triumph. He and Brewster find themselves top of the pecking order in attack until Firmino, Mané and Salah return.
The Belgium international played the second half against Tranmere, Brewster the first, as Klopp fielded two completely different teams for 45 minutes each. Only five players who featured in the win over Tottenham in Madrid were involved – Fabinho, Joel Matip, James Milner, Joe Gomez and Origi – with Liverpool staggering the return of those on international duty earlier in the summer. Virgil van Dijk, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Trent Alexander-Arnold report back on Saturday. Andy Robertson then joins the group that goes on the club’s US tour next week.
For Brewster Prenton Park represented the start of what Klopp hopes will prove a breakthrough season for him. England’s Golden Boot winner from the under-17s World Cup triumph in 2017 missed a year’s development with knee and ankle ligament problems but is an established part of the manager’s plans for the new campaign. The teenage striker was flanked by Ryan Kent and Harry Wilson, both of whom are expected to leave Anfield again this summer, and the three linked well in a surprisingly sharp display from Liverpool. Surprising in the sense they only resumed training on Saturday.
Brewster made one and scored two in his 45 minutes against the newly promoted League One side. The opening goal arrived swiftly when Gomez breezed through Tranmere’s midfield and found the young forward in space. Brewster sprayed a first-time ball out to the unmarked Nathaniel Clyne and the full-back, another destined for the exit, found the top corner with an emphatic finish. Brewster then opened his account with an instinctive close-range header from Wilson’s first-time cross. His quick feet are matched by a quick mind, as evidenced seconds before the interval when he was first to react to the goalkeeper Scott Davies parrying Milner’s 20-yard drive. The striker tucked in the rebound with ease.
Yasser Larouci, a rapid 18-year-old signed from Le Havre, also impressed at left-back and twice came close to beating Davies. Another notable feature of the first half was Adam Lallana operating deepest in the middle of a three-man midfield with Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, another player Klopp has likened to a new signing following long-term injury. The manager added: “Rhian Brewster and Oxlade-Chamberlain didn’t play last year, all the young boys didn’t play for us last year. The transfer market is open, we will see what we do, but I don’t think it will be the biggest transfer window of all time.”
Curtis Jones, Origi and Duncan extended Liverpool’s lead in a second half where an injury to Paul Glatzel was the one sour note for Klopp. Both Duncan and Glatzel, two 18-year-old forwards who shone for the under-18s last season, are scheduled to go on the US tour. Brewster will relish every moment.
Liverpool first half: Mignolet; Clyne, Phillips, Gomez, Larouci; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Lallana, Milner; Wilson, Brewster, Kent.
Liverpool second half: Jaros; Hoever, Matip, Johnston, Lewis; Woodburn, Fabinho, Jones; Glatzel, Origi, Duncan.