Perils of preseason judgements but Liverpool fans can learn something
The madness is almost upon us. Preseason is an odd time for supporters, and it gets stranger every year now that fans of the bigger teams can watch every game live on their club's own TV channel.
In years gone by, there was very little interest in these fixtures due to a lack of TV coverage. These days, however, they are treated much more seriously by fans, who often use preseason contests as an excuse to over-scrutinize individual performances -- particularly those of fringe players and new signings.
We all do it, but we really shouldn't. Countless players have looked like stars in preseason only to be found wanting when the real stuff gets under way, and vice versa. In the grand scheme of things, performances in friendly games mean very little, and managers are more influenced by what they see on the training pitch. Still, it's difficult to watch your team play and not draw conclusions or make ill-advised judgements.
In the next week or two, supporters of all clubs will take to social media to declare that "young player X" is ready for a run in the first team, or ponder whether "unwanted Player Y" could still have a future after all.
It happens every year, and Lazar Markovic has incited a lot of speculation among Liverpool's fan base over the last two summers. If he impresses this week against Tranmere Rovers in the Reds' preseason opener (and he probably will, considering the level of opposition), you can bet your house there will be plenty of Reds declaring that he should now be given a chance when it counts.
Don't do it to yourselves. Markovic will be sold if a suitable offer comes in, or he will be loaned out for a fourth time if it doesn't. He doesn't score or create enough goals to be playing in the front three for a side competing at the top of the league. Think that's unfair? He plays the same position as Sadio Mane -- and can you honestly compare them?
Some might argue that he'd be worth holding onto if only to provide cover, but even with Mane away at the African Nations Cup last January and Liverpool severely undermanned in wide areas, Jurgen Klopp still chose to send Markovic on loan to Hull City. That says it all.
With Dominic Solanke and Mohamed Salah now on board and the possibility of another forward coming in before the transfer window closes, Markovic is not going to become a part of the manager's plans overnight. Keeping him around would make sense for neither club nor player, regardless of how good he might look over the next few weeks.
Alberto Moreno is in a somewhat similar situation, although there remains a slight chance that he could earn a stay of execution if Klopp is unable to recruit a replacement. Liverpool's seemingly endless search for a left-back means Moreno is still hanging in there desperately, despite attracting interest from other clubs.
He'll no doubt shine in these opening preseason fixtures, as he's unlikely to have to do too much defending and his obvious weakness in that area won't be exposed. Just as with Markovic and other teammates with uncertain futures, however, it's going to be nigh on impossible for Moreno to do anything to alter Klopp's perception of him.
That's not to say these preseason affairs are not important; they are vital for fitness, and will allow Klopp to try out new tactics in a non-pressure environment. Some players will inevitably shine more than others, but ultimately very little that happens in these games will have any influence on the manager's plans for the upcoming season.
Still, these contests will be worth watching, particularly for fans who need their fix of club football after being deprived of it since May.
Preseason fixtures are far more entertaining now than they used to be, and these early games in particular will grant young players an opportunity to make an impression before some of the big names return to training. While it doesn't matter much how the established senior players perform in these games, preseason play is extremely important for kids looking to prove themselves.
It isn't enough for a young player to merely look comfortable at this level. They need to excel in these early games (and, more importantly, in training), because it will be tough for them to get any minutes later in the preseason with the full squad available.
Ben Woodburn is a great example of youngster looking to make a splash these next few weeks. He took his chance last summer and was moved up to train with the first team on a full-time basis. While he moved ahead of Harry Wilson and Sheyi Ojo in the pecking order (in part due to how well he performed in preseason), he will need to put together another impressive showing this summer, since Wilson, Ojo and Ryan Kent will all be looking to emulate what he did and take his spot.
Along with any potential formation changes, the competition among aspiring prospects will be the most interesting thing to look out for this preseason. The rest is all just noise.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.