EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A night on a dodgy pitch in a rainstorm at the MetLife Stadium won't live long in the memory of many of the Liverpool and Manchester City players on duty for this International Champions Cup clash, but Liverpool's 2-1 win wasn't a washout for all of them.
For Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge and Nathaniel Clyne, this was a game that mattered. It was another step on the long road back to where they need to be.
None of them will look back on the 2017-18 season with any fondness, but the new campaign is a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again. All three would have gone into last season harbouring genuine hope of playing in the World Cup with England, but none of them found themselves on the plane to Russia. As Jurgen Klopp's men made it all the way to the Champions League final, only Lallana was able to make a fleeting substitute appearance against Real Madrid in Kiev.
Clyne made just five appearances in all competitions last season due to a long-term back injury. The former Southampton full-back amassed just 183 minutes on the pitch during the whole campaign and saw Trent Alexander-Arnold emerge as competition at right-back during an impressive year.
His hopes for an impressive summer were dealt a setback, however, when the club announced on Friday that he would leave the U.S. tour to attend to a personal matter.
Meanwhile, Sturridge fell so far off the radar that he spent the second half of the season on loan at West Bromwich Albion, a move that turned into a nightmare when injury curtailed his involvement as the club suffered relegation from the Premier League.
Lallana, a player regarded as crucial to Liverpool by Klopp, saw his year disrupted by thigh and hamstring injuries that restricted him to 15 appearances -- and just 236 minutes in the Premier League -- in all competitions.
But while many of their teammates missed out on this game due to extended breaks following the World Cup, Clyne, Lallana and Sturridge continued their own personal journeys back to first-team contention.
Just as Sturridge would have expected, 12 months ago, to play at the World Cup, he would surely have ended last season expecting to be at a new club this preseason. But the former City and Chelsea forward has impressed Klopp with his focus and determination this summer, prompting the Liverpool manager to give the 28-year-old another chance to save his Anfield career.
Can he take it? Finding a way through the Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane forward line will not be easy, and the signing of Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke will only stiffen the task facing Sturridge. He remains a proven goal scorer and clinical finisher, but this game showed he was still some way from being the player he was. The sight of Salah scoring within 90 seconds of coming on in the second half will have reminded Sturridge of the challenge he faces. That said, he is at least in the conversation again, and his 45-minute outing against City will edge him closer to fitness ahead of the start of the season.
Lallana, sporting a new, blond haircut, would have gone to the World Cup had he had perhaps another five games under his belt at the end of last season. Gareth Southgate added him to his stand-by list for Russia, but ultimately, the midfielder missed out. He is a player who makes a difference in the final third, however, and a fit Lallana this season will give Liverpool a much greater chance of ending the club's 28-year wait for a league title.
Like Sturridge, he managed 45 minutes in this game, but his movement and distribution will have heartened Klopp ahead of the new campaign.
Clyne lasted longer than both Sturridge and Lallana, being replaced by Rafa Camacho after an hour, but it was a crucial 60 minutes for a player who has barely kicked a ball in the past 12 months. His battle with Alexander-Arnold for the right-back spot this season will be intense, but it is one that Klopp will regard as raising the standards of both players.
While this game will count for little for the two clubs once the real action starts next month, it carried real significance for Sturridge, Lallana and Clyne.