On a day when Liverpool fans got a glimpse of the future, worries about the present are starting to grow.
The Reds had their first look at Harvey Elliott on Sunday, but that was where the positive news began and ended. Their 3-0 thrashing by Napoli at Edinburgh’s famous Murrayfield Stadium did little to suggest the European Champions are anywhere near ready for the new season, which essentially gets underway in a week’s time.
Just as they had during their recent tour of the USA, Jurgen Klopp’s side looked short in just about every area. They lacked quality and penetration in attack, looked suspect defensively and, perhaps most glaringly, were well below their levels in terms of fitness and sharpness. "We have a week to bring some freshness back," said Klopp, who did nothing to sugar-coat another below-par display.
That’s four friendlies without a win now, with three defeats. In six pre-season games this summer, they have conceded 11 goals. That number could easily have been worse, given Napoli’s dominance here. The Italians' season does not start until August 24, but they looked far more coherent than their opponents here. Lorenzo Insigne, in particular, had a field day.
Concerning? You bet. The new league season is less than a fortnight away, and Manchester City await in next weekend’s Community Shield. The coming week’s training camp in France is simply vital if Liverpool are to be anything like ready for the challenges to come.
They won't panic, of course, and nor should they. But results like this will only amplify calls for Klopp to dip into the transfer market before the window closes on August 8.
As it stands, they have added only Elliott, 16, and Sepp van den Berg, 17, to last season’s squad. Klopp has called the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Rhian Brewster, who all featured here, “new signings,” but there has been no evidence yet that Liverpool are stronger. The return of their front three, in particular, cannot come soon enough.
Two of them, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, will report back on Monday ahead of the Evian camp, along with first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker. Their presence, as well as that of Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita, who are set to return from injury, will be most welcome. If Liverpool haven’t looked like Liverpool this summer, Klopp might argue, it’s because they aren’t. Not yet, anyway. "The good thing is that if opponents analyse us now they will think 'easy job'," he admitted. "But we'll be a different animal next week."
He was at least able to give Elliott his first taste of action in the second half. The teenager’s arrival from Fulham had finally been confirmed earlier in the day and here, wearing the No.67 shirt, he replaced Fabinho with 12 minutes remaining and with the score at 3-0.
What could he produce?
The answer was, at least, a bit of a buzz around the ground. Supporters have been keen to see the boy who in May became the youngest debutant in Premier League history, and have heard good things about his precocious talent. "That's why he's here," Klopp said. "He had the choice to go pretty much anywhere, but he wanted to be a part of Liverpool. He's clearly a very talented footballer."
He was straight into the action here, demanding the ball, getting it and, after an exchange of passes with Rhian Brewster, forcing a corner to loud applause. His next touch was equally assured, a cushioned volleyed pass to Van den Berg, who had come on at the same time. Later, he would go for goal from 20 yards, his left-footed effort flying well over the bar. He may be a kid, younger than some of the replica shirts on display here, but he clearly lacks nothing in terms of confidence.
There will always be support for youngsters at Liverpool and rightly so – Adam Lewis, Ki-Jana Hoever and Bobby Duncan also came on in the second half – but there are legitimate concerns about the strength of the Reds’ senior squad right now. An injury to a Salah, a Mane, a Firmino, a Virgil van Dijk or an Andy Robertson would leave Klopp’s side exposed in a way City, their chief rival, simply would not be.
Maybe that's an unfair comparison, given the league champions’ unparalleled spending power. Liverpool’s growth has had to be more organic, but the impact made by big signings such as Van Dijk, Alisson, Fabinho and Salah should not be overlooked. They're not paupers at Anfield, where in February they announced record profits and record turnover. It’s not about spending for the sake of it, it’s about giving yourself the best possible chance of success.
Right now, plenty of fans are concerned that Liverpool are missing a trick in that regard.
Whether they are right or not, only time will tell.