Three games, one heatwave, no wins, but at least four major absentees. Liverpool are on their way home from a pre-season tour of the United States which has probably left manager Jurgen Klopp with more questions than answers.
Without his goalkeeper and entire first-choice front three it was always going to be difficult for Klopp to learn much from friendlies against Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Sporting Lisbon.
But what shape are the European champions in as they head into a season in which they are expected to fight with Manchester City for the Premier League title? And what more do they need before their campaign gets under way – against City in the Community Shield on 4 August.
No Mane, Salah or Firmino = a problem
Last season’s heroics were built largely on the prowess of Liverpool’s attacking trident. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane scored 69 goals between them in all competitions – the players on this US tour managed 30.
Salah and Firmino – plus the injured duo of Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keita, plus goalkeeper Alisson – should all be back in training next week, with Mane not returning from Africa Cup of Nations duty until after the Community Shield.
Without the big hitters in attack, Divock Origi led the line in the States. Along with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Belgian was the only player to start all three matches and scored twice, showing his predatory instincts to fire home two rebounds inside the six-yard box.
Origi remains somewhat of an enigma for Liverpool, but there can be no denying that he has become something of a fans’ favourite.
His name was sung loudly from the bleachers in Boston, in the tailgate parties in Indiana some five hours before kick-off and again from the Babe Ruth plaza in New York.
He offers a threat in behind defences but often his runs were too early or he was running in the same channels as those carrying the ball.
His best chances tended to be ones he made himself – but maybe he will adapt over time. After all, he did only start four Premier League games last season.
Klopp said in Boston that “the best football is always when you mix things up”. Origi looks likely to be his Plan B again this season.
Short on numbers – but nothing imminent incoming
That was no surprise – but his admission after the Sporting game that the injury sustained by right-back Nathaniel Clyne “will not influence our plans in the window” perhaps was.
Clyne had long since lost the fight to be Liverpool’s first-choice right-back, but after his injury and the departure of Alberto Moreno, Klopp is short of cover in defence.
Joe Gomez played at right-back in the second half against Sporting, while youngster Ki-Jana Hoever filled in there against Sevilla.
And Mr Dependable himself, James Milner, found himself back at left-back for the final half hour in New York.
In total 19 players started a game in the States, but Yasser Larouci, Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent, Andy Lonergan, Nathaniel Phillips and Ben Woodburn are unlikely to feature much in the Premier League.
“It was a very good experience for the young boys especially,” Klopp said.
“They had some very good moments, especially Harry Wilson. Ryan Kent had great moments against Sevilla, and Rhian Brewster hasn’t played for a long, long time.
“You could see in training it was a bit too much for him but sport is like this, you can’t only train on a sunny day. I’m happy with them.
“But now we get back hopefully six players.”
Liverpool’s sole summer signing – 17-year-old defender Sepp van den Berg – got his first taste of action in the final few minutes in New York. Will he have any new faces joining him at Melwood before the window shuts on 8 August?
US and them
Klopp may have grown weary of answering questions about what he thought of the facilities, the stadiums, the pitch in each location – and at one point he was asked by a reporter from the US for an awkward hug – but there can be no denying that Liverpool have made a splash in the States.
The university town of South Bend was painted red for the Dortmund game, while in Boston I met fans who had travelled 3,000 miles from California to see them play.
The crowd in New York may have been a touch disappointing – 31,112 – but nearly all were dressed in red, with the subway stations ringing out to “Allez Allez Allez” at gone midnight.
“The game is ready to conquer the US,” Klopp said.
“In 2026 you have the World Cup again, and women’s football here rules the world, which is impressive. The desire for sports in general is massive, you have enough people for all the big four [American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey] plus soccer.
“It will take a while for American clubs to be as big as Liverpool but until then you are welcome to support Liverpool.”
Ultimately, Klopp will only know whether the trip has been a success once the real business gets up and running. With Liverpool playing in the Champions League, Club World Cup, Uefa Super Cup, Community Shield as well as domestic competitions this season and facing a huge number of potential games, he could do with getting off to a flier.
“We know it is every year the same in pre-season, you have these kind of games that are important but have no real value in the end,” he said.
“The Premier League, the intensity, the concentration level, everything, you can see immediately it is on a completely different level.”
That level begins against Norwich on Friday, 9 August. America will be watching.