Hertha Berlin got the better of Liverpool in a seven-goal thriller, but it was the return from injury of both Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez that will have pleased manager Jurgen Klopp the most.
In their second pre-season game of their summer tour of Austria, Klopp’s team soon found themselves 2-0 down after goals from Santiago Ascacibar and Suat Serdar’s wonder strike.
However, Liverpool rallied to go in level at the break thanks to well-taken efforts from Sadio Mane and Takumi Minamino, only for substitute Stevan Jovetic’s second-half double to give Hertha the spoils.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain did pull a goal back late on, although it was the sight of Van Dijk and Gomez playing the last 20 minutes at the Tivoli Stadion Tirol that will have mattered most to Klopp come the full-time whistle.
How the teams lined up | Match statsPre-season results and fixturesFirst-half team: Kelleher; Alexander-Arnold, Konate, Matip, Tsimikas; Milner, Keita, Elliott; Mane, Salah, MinaminoSecond-half team: Adrian, Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Williams, Robertson, Milner, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jones, Salah, Mane
How Van Dijk and Gomez returned to boost RedsIf Klopp’s team were expecting an easy introduction in Innsbruck, then were much mistaken as after a Liverpool-dominated opening period, Hertha soon raced into a surprise two-goal lead.
Ascacibar bundled the Bundesliga team ahead after 21 minutes, only to be taken off after being injured stretching to touch home Marvin Plattenhardt’s inviting free-kick, before Serdar doubled their lead 10 minutes later with an eye-catching strike.
There appeared little danger when the midfielder gained possession in the box, however, from the tightest of angles, he somehow found the top corner of the net with an exquisite volley.
Liverpool were more than a little unfortunate to find themselves 2-0 behind, but were soon level as Konstantinos Tsimikas took advantage of Alexander Schwolow’s poor throw to set up Mane for a close-range finish eight minutes before half-time.
Then with just three minutes to go to the break, Naby Keita released Mohamed Salah in the box and from the forward’s gorgeous back heel, there was Minamino to complete the comeback.
Liverpool continued to dominate after the interval, only to somehow find themselves behind again as substitute Jovetic stole in behind Nat Phillips to head home midway through the second period.
All eyes were soon directed towards the touchline as finally, after a raft of changes, Klopp finally brought on centre-backs Van Dijk and Gomez for the last 20 minutes, their first runouts since both damaged ACLs last autumn.
It was not to be the fairytale ending though as Jovetic, faced with just Van Dijk to beat on the edge of the area, turned the Dutchman inside out, before firing home his second with 10 minutes to go.
Van Dijk did then play a role in his side’s late consolation, with his header causing confusion in the Hertha box, before Oxlade-Chamberlain rifled an unstoppable volley into the net two minutes from time.
But it was too little, too late for Klopp’s men, not that the German would have minded though after seeing his two central defenders come through their 20-minute comebacks unscathed.
It has been nine long months for Liverpool fans waiting for the return of Virgil van Dijk, the rock at the heart of their defence and one of the main reasons behind the club’s then domination of English and European football.
The Netherlands international suffered a horrific knee injury in last October’s Merseyside derby, ruling him out of the whole of last season, as well as this summer’s Euros.
As a result, Klopp’s team produced a disjointed title defence, eventually limping home third after a late end-of-season rally, but that is all forgotten now following the centre-back’s return against Hertha on Thursday night.
Van Dijk may have only played the last 20 minutes in Austria, not surprisingly looking rusty in that time alongside fellow returnee Joe Gomez, but it is the vital first step on the road to hopefully a full recovery.
Yes, the 30-year-old was made to look like a novice defender by Stevan Jovetic for Hertha’s fourth and final goal, but it is now miles in his legs and minutes on the clock that matter more than any marks for artistic impression.