Press-ups, quizzes and Love Island - Inside Liverpool's 'unique' pre-season camp

Last Updated
Getty

Naby Keita thought he could get away with it, but Sadio Mane had other ideas.

It was the end of another gruelling Liverpool training session, and Jurgen Klopp had some news.

“We’ve had a look at the video...” the Reds boss began. Before he could finish, Virgil van Dijk dropped to the floor. Twenty press-ups.

Article continues below

He knew. 

Keita knew, too, though tried to hide himself away behind Klopp, only for Mane to ruthlessly expose his plan. 

Cue much laughter and, yes, 20 press-ups for the Guinea midfielder, part of a four-man team that had been caught bending the rules in an exercise earlier in the session.

“We have VAR these days, even in training!” grinned assistant manager Pep Lijnders.

It has been a gruelling few weeks for Liverpool’s players and staff. Pre-season is supposed to be tough, but this has been a unique summer for Klopp and his team.

By the time they return to Merseyside next weekend, most will have been away from home for four weeks. They will have trained twice or three times a day for the most part; pushed to their limits in the Austrian hills and the French heat.

“Anfield is calling!” Klopp said following Thursday’s friendly defeat to Hertha Berlin. He was referring to the forthcoming games with Athletic Bilbao (August 8) and Osasuna (August 9). Five days later, Liverpool get their Premier League campaign up and running, away to newly-promoted Norwich.

They will, Klopp hopes, be in ideal shape by then. On Saturday, his squad moved from their picturesque base in Tirol, Austria, to a new, familiar one in the French town of Evian-les-Bains, on the banks of Lake Geneva.

They’ve been there before, in both 2018 and 2019. “My time,” Klopp called it then. Time to close the doors and work on key tactical ideas for the season, away from the prying eyes of fans and media.

This time around, Liverpool will play two 60-minute friendlies against Serie A side Bologna, by which time Klopp should have his full squad together again. Captain Jordan Henderson, and the Brazilian trio of Alisson Becker, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino, are the last to return from their summer breaks.

The rest are well into the swing of things. The likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Trent Alexander-Arnold and new signing Ibrahima Konate have been there since the squad reported on July 12 while others – Andy Robertson, Diogo Jota, Thiago Alcantara – joined up soon after. 

There has also, of course, been the most welcome sight of Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip returning from long-term injury, and of youngsters such as Harvey Elliott and Kaide Gordon staking their claims for first-team involvement, either now or in the not-too-distant future.

Pre-season has, according to Lijnders, been split into three phases. The first, naturally, was about building fitness, with the second about consistency and reinforcing the team’s core philosophy – a commitment to counter-pressing, fast transitions and the creation of overloads in wide areas.

The third, which will take place in France this week and back at Kirkby next, is about fine-tuning, honing and improving through intense repetition. “A team must always be evolving,” Lijnders says. The Dutchman’s training drills are constructed with that idea in mind.

For someone like Konate, the new £36 million ($49m) purchase from Leipzig, it has been a challenging start. The France U21 defender has already discovered just how fit this Liverpool squad is, courtesy of a gruelling fitness session in Tirol which involved six 1,000-metre runs, in groups of four, with one minute’s rest in between.

“This was a welcome for Ibou to the real LFC pre-season!” Lijnders said. James Milner, as ever, led the way, though the sight of Divock Origi, Curtis Jones and youngster Jake Cain keeping pace with Liverpool’s very own ‘marathon man’ was, sources say, one to behold.

“Come on, give me some more!” Milner demanded as they approached the end of their fifth kilometre. Their split came in at around three minutes and five seconds – a frankly ridiculous pace.

“Jurgen even had the idea to spice it up with a penalty challenge after the fifth 1,000m,” Lijnders revealed. “The idea was if you shoot and miss you have to do 2x1,000 extra, but if you score it’s done, and if you don’t take the chance, you have to do only 1x1,000 more.

“Sadio, Trent, Milner and Neco [Williams] missed, but everybody took the chance. Then, you saw some team players; Ox immediately ran with Trent; Mo went to help Sadio; Robbo and Diogo went with Neco. These things make us coaches smile.”

It is that team spirit, that sense of togetherness, which has underpinned so much of Liverpool’s success under Klopp, and it has certainly been evident throughout this pre-season, both on and off the pitch.

Boredom is always a risk when a squad is away from home for so long, but Liverpool’s backroom team have worked wonders in ensuring players have had things to do during their downtime. We were treated to a ten-pin bowling contest between Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip, which Van Dijk won at a canter, while Milner, by all accounts, made full use of the golf simulator at the Tirol base.

A team quiz in Salzburg ended with the losing group, which included Gomez, Lijnders, Gordon and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, performing a dance for the rest of the squad. 

“I think only Ox enjoyed it!’ laughed Klopp, who was happy for the presence of young goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, head of press Matt McCann and the club’s managing director, Billy Hogan, in his team.

Hogan has been one of several visitors to the camp, his presence evidence of the club’s ‘top to bottom’ togetherness. 

There were drop-ins from throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark, who gave a presentation to the players during week one, and from Christopher Rohrbeck, the club’s former physio who now works at Mainz, while the legendary Yaya Toure was a surprise guest at a training session in Saafenden during week two.

The former Manchester City midfielder, now the assistant coach of Russian club Akhmat Grozny, was invited by Mane, and was pictured looking delighted alongside the likes of Klopp, Van Dijk and Salah. The fact he was wearing a pair of Liverpool shorts, naturally, went down well with fans on social media.

Liverpool’s own social media coverage has been outstanding, offering supporters a real insight. They can see new friendships blossoming – Salah and Elliott, for example, have bonded, while Greek full-back Kostas Tsimikas is fast becoming one of the loudest voices in the squad.

The brotherhood of Van Dijk and Gomez, meanwhile, has been there for all to see, whether ten-pin bowling, pushing each other hard in the gym, making their comeback together against Hertha last week or finding time to catch up on Love Island each evening. There really is no accounting for taste, is there?!

The Olympics have provided a welcome distraction, and plenty of discussion points, online chess has proven a big hit, while the team table-tennis tournaments have reached new levels of competitiveness. Salah, Van Dijk and young midfielder Leighton Clarkson are the stars there, though the Scouse showdown between Jones and Alexander-Arnold is said to be the real box-office clash.

“Rhys [Williams] says Trent should wear a GPS when he plays because Curtis has him running like crazy!” laughs Lijnders, who says he and Klopp will be taking on Salah and Mane in a paddle tennis match in Evian.

The final night in Austria brought a karaoke session at which Takumi Minamino's singing and Billy Koumetio's dancing were the standouts. "Wow, it was interesting!" Lijnders said.

On the pitch, the star of training has been Matip, who looks sharp following his return from an ankle injury. Oxlade-Chamberlain looks lean, fit and hungry, Elliott seems to have benefited enormously from his spell at Blackburn and Milner, at 35, continues to set the highest of standards.

Young keepers Kelleher and Harvey Davies have earned glowing praise from Klopp, as has Clarkson, who looks ready for first-team football, probably on loan, this season.

The sight of Van Dijk and Gomez back brings reassurance heading into the new campaign, even if they have a way to go to regain full sharpness, while the presence of Salah, Mane and Alexander-Arnold, who this week signed a new long-term contract, for the entirety of pre-season should not be underestimated. 

Those players, along with the likes of Milner, Matip, Konate and Jones, should be at optimum level by the time the Norwich game rolls around. The rest won’t be far behind either. 

The message is clear; after the tests and the struggles of last season, Liverpool are ready for this one.

As summers go, this has been a good one so far.