It was if Rhian Brewster had never been away. Back at Prenton Park, back in the goals.
On Thursday evening, the striker’s first-half brace set Liverpool on their way to a comprehensive 6-0 win over Tranmere in their first pre-season friendly of the summer.
For Brewster, it was a significant evening at a ground where he has previously shone at youth level. If this is to be a big season for the 19-year-old, he has started it in perfect fashion.
“It’s mad how far you can come in a year,” the Londoner reflected afterwards. “This time last year I was out injured, I was here watching the boys play against Tranmere and this year I’m here playing.”
Not only playing, but shining too. Leading the line for Jurgen Klopp’s mix-and-match team, Brewster showed significant glimpses of why Anfield staff have such high hopes for him.
His goals were predatory, both of them converted from inside the six-yard box, one with his head from a Harry Wilson cross, one after James Milner’s shot had been pushed out by Scott Davies, the Tranmere goalkeeper.
Before that there was an assist, a nice pick-out for Nathaniel Clyne, who hammered home the opener after just five minutes, and throughout there were signs that the youngster’s touch and movement will allow him to become a top-level player in the future.
“I'm loving every minute of pre-season,” Brewster added. “It's tough, don't get me wrong, but I'd rather be out there than on the treatment bench.”
Klopp, perhaps a little surprisingly, chose to downplay things afterwards. The Reds boss rounded, playfully, on a reporter who asked about Brewster’s performance.
“It is 2019,” he said, “We should stop talking about the boy who scored two goals and overlooking what others do in the other 89 minutes.
“Rhian, I love the boy, he is a fantastic player but one of the goals I could have scored!”
Still, he found time to state, once more, that this will be “a big season” for Brewster, who spent close to 16 months on the sidelines after serious injuries to his ankle and knee sustained playing for Liverpool’s under-23 side.
“He is a top striker, a top talent and I have told him already that he has an important role this year,” Klopp said. “But how important? It depends on him. We will see.”
There is definitely a squad space available, given Daniel Sturridge’s departure last month, though Klopp was right to point out that the presence of Roberto Firmino and Divock Origi, who also scored at Tranmere and who signed a new long-term contract this week, means Brewster must add variation to his game in order to thrive.
“He has to play different positions as well,” he said. “The centre, the wing is possible, I think.
“We will see how we line up, but there will be opportunities for him, I am sure.”
Certainly, Brewster will back himself to make his mark at Anfield. Though yet to make a senior first-team appearance, the teenager lacks nothing in terms of confidence.
“I know what I want in life,” he told Goal in an exclusive interview a year ago, in which he floated the idea of playing himself into contention for England’s Euro 2020 squad.
That may seem fanciful, but confidence in a young footballer should not be discouraged. And if the testimonies of his Liverpool coaches and team-mates are anything to go by, Brewster has more than a fighting chance. They think the world of him at Anfield.
Liverpool pulled out all the stops to keep him on Merseyside last year, amid strong interest from the Bundesliga. RB Leipzig and Borussia Monchengladbach made approaches – Gladbach’s cost them a showpiece friendly at Anfield that summer – and Brewster seriously considered heading to Germany, such is his desire to play regular first-team football.
“I want to play at the highest level, for club and country,” he told Goal.
His chance should come in the coming weeks and months. Klopp’s faith is strong enough that he will resist the urge to push for a new, big-money centre-forward this summer, and it is telling that Sturridge, Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke have been allowed to leave the club in the last 12 months.
Liverpool see Brewster as the future, a player who will be part of their club for years to come.
As for the man himself, he’s just happy to be on the field again.
“I'm taking every moment as it comes,” he smiled. “It's great to be back out there.”
Liverpool’s pre-season friendly at Bradford on Sunday (3pm UK time) will be used to raise awareness for former player Stephen Darby’s new foundation.
Darby played for both clubs, but was forced to retire aged just 29 after being diagnosed with motor neurone disease.
The Maghull-born defender, who is married to England Women’s captain Steph Houghton, has recently set up the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation, which now has an official partnership with Bradford. The foundation’s branding will appear on the shorts of the Bantams’ new away strip, which will be worn for the first team against the Reds at the Northern Commercials Stadium this weekend.
In June, members of Liverpool’s under-23 and under-18 teams raised more than £4,000 for the foundation by climbing Mount Snowdon, and it is hoped that the high-profile nature of Sunday’s game – a crowd of around 24,000 is expected - between two of Darby’s former clubs, will help generate further funds.