Watch: Liverpool wonder kid Ben Woodburn on target again in win over Wigan
Wigan 0 Liverpool 2
Philippe Coutinho had been back in a Liverpool shirt five minutes when he offered a reminder of his star quality.
A 25 yard free kick against the Wigan crossbar prompted the first chanting of his name of the new season. Ten minutes later the Brazilian’s unwanted partnership with Wigan woodwork continued when a left footer struck the post and rebounded to safety.
No matter. The 24-year-old looked far sharper than expected or necessary for the latest of Liverpool’s glorified open training sessions – or ‘pre-season friendlies’ for those who prefer the traditional title. He’d certainly missed the memo about professional footballers returning to training unfit and overweight, appearing ridiculously sharp given he was only back at Melwood six days ago.
His first half contributions sprinkled stardust on a game Liverpool won 2-0, courtesy of Danny Ings and exciting 16-year-old winger Ben Woodburn’s second goal in consecutive friendlies. Welsh junior international Woodburn is too young to force his way into Klopp's USA tour plans, but he is certainly proving a name to watch in the coming seasons.
Mid-July fixtures are usually an exercise in giving meaning to the ultimately meaningless as body weight and cobwebs are shed, but Coutinho’s presence in the DW Stadium was a source of reassurance to the visiting supporters.
There were murmurings of bids from Barcelona and Paris Saint-German last May, coupled with suggestions Liverpool’s lack of Champions Football (or any European football this season) might force the club’s player of the season for the last two years to consider his options.
Brazil’s toils in Copa America ensured even this most decadent of transfer windows has not (yet) yielded as much interest in the midfielder as anticipated or feared. The feeling from some of Europe’s Champions League clubs that Coutinho still has much to prove on the biggest of stages of UEFA and international competition is working to Liverpool’s advantage.
That’s just as well since Liverpool have been averaging the loss of one star player per summer since 2012; Jamie Carragher, Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling. Come August, Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge are likely to be the only members of the side that nearly won the title in 2014 who could be considered guaranteed starters in Klopp’s preferred starting eleven. Jordan Henderson, possibly, would make a third. That’s a depressing turnaround from a position of strength over 24 months.
No wonder Jurgen Klopp is now talking about squad stability instead of massive reconstruction. Liverpool’s problem since that near miss two year ago – and for most of the two decades before what was essentially a one-off title challenge – has been too much change.
Some alterations are welcome, however, with new goalkeeper Loris Karius hoping to prove a more consistent presence between the sticks.
Wigan, playing a different eleven to that which was beaten by Manchester United 24 hours earlier, almost benefited from a mistake by the German. Karius miscontrolled a backpass, but Sanmi Odelusi was unable to pounce for a tap-in.
Wigan’s Lee Nicholls was busiest, denying Coutinho again just before half-time before Klopp made the usual mass changes at the break, with the Brazilian among those given a rest.
Ings ensured Liverpool finally took one of their multiple chances in the second half, controlling and finishing a Lazar Markovic cross on 71 minutes. Woodburn, elevated from the Under 18s for pre-season, added the second three minutes later with a poised finish in a one-on-one. These warm-up games may not be memorable to the rest of us, but for the teenager who's only just finished his GCSE's they've become unforgettable.