It's that time of year again for Liverpool, with the Reds returning to training ahead of another big season.
Holiday time is over for several members of Jurgen KIopp's squad, with the serious work starting now. The Reds will be keen to prepare in the best way possible as they look to get back on track following a difficult term last time out.
And that involves hard work at the AXA Training Centre, where eight members of the first team squad will report on Saturday morning. Adrian, Stefan Bajcetic, Fabinho, Joe Gomez, Joel Matip, Darwin Nunez, Nathaniel Phillips and Thiago Alcantara are all back in training, with internationals as well as new signings Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister set to return on Tuesday, July 11.
They will be tested to the limit, as the squad braces itself to take on one of Liverpool's most gruelling exercises - the lactate test. This notorious programme measures the player's aerobic endurance as participants are asked to run a series of increasing distances at great speeds. At the end of each checkpoint a sample of blood is taken from each player's ear to measure their lactic acid level. If the level is too high, they must drop out until there is only one player left.
Despite being the oldest member of the squad, recently-departed midfielder James Milner was a regular winner of the lactate test. However, it is not plain sailing for everyone, as Andy Robertson found out to his cost on his first day training as a Liverpool player. The Scotland captain moved to the Reds from Hull City in 2017 and immediately began pre-season training in July of that year after completing an £8million switch.
Robertson revealed how his first attempts at the test forced him to throw up on the pitch, such was the difficulty of the challenge set by famed taskmaster Andreas Kornmayer - the club's head of fitness and conditioning. Speaking on the Peter Crouch podcast, the Liverpool defender said: "The day I signed we got the tour of the stadium and stuff and that is when it really hits home. But I remember my first day, there was only six or seven of us because it was pre-season, so only a few of us in and Danny Ings was just coming back from long-term injury.
"So he stayed behind and we had to do the lactate test that the Germans love, it's basically running to your maximum. I remember running alongside Danny Ings and I was just sick everywhere! Actually physically sick. [With the test] they set up poles around the pitch and you have to make each pole on the whistle but then it gets faster and faster.
"My medical took two days so I didn't really eat, so I put it down to that and I was tired. Ingsy was talking to me on the way round and I could just feel it, I knew something wasn't right. I tried to hold it in my mouth and I just had to let it go. It was terrible. Day one!
"Luckily the gaffer (Klopp) wasn't there and I thought I'd got away with it and he returned three days later and introduced himself, blah blah blah, and then he called me Mr Sick Boy or something like that. I was gutted!"
While Robertson is adjusted to the ways of the lactate test these days, he may challenge for the crown after previous winner Milner left for Brighton this summer. The Anfield elder statesman was seemingly untouchable when it comes to the lactate test, finishing top of the pile every season that he has been at the club.
Has anyone ever come close to taking Milner's lactate test crown? Apparently former Red Kevin Stewart did, prior to Robertson joining the club from Hull City, with Stewart heading in the opposite direction.
The midfielder was put of the Liverpool first team set up between 2013 and 2017. In an interview with goal, Trent Alexander-Arnold revealed: “We are a fit team, there are a lot of players who have great engines – Hendo, Gini, Robbo. But Milly, I don’t think I’ll ever see anyone as fit as him.
“I remember a few years ago Kev Stewart would give him a run for his money in pre-season. But considering his age and how long he’s played for, to still be the fittest player in arguably the fittest team in the world, and by some margin, that takes some doing.”
Joe Gomez is another who has run James Milner close in previous years.
With new-boys Szoboszlai and Mac Allister joining up with the squad for the very first time this week, supporters will be eager to see if Liverpool's summer signings can even get close to the levels set by Milner. And Robertson knows all about the cut-throat nature of training at the highest level with the Reds.
Robertson was 22 at the time and was immediately given a tongue lashing from captain Jordan Henderson as he got to grips with his new surroundings.
"I was learning how the manager wants me to play but obviously when the season starts he's got trophies to win and a team to build," he added.
"He can't be tip-toeing me through every step. Obviously our game is all about high press and winning the ball back but I was struggling making the final step. But once I started to get that and it started clicking, I believed I wasn't far off then. People do sink [at Liverpool] if they maybe cannot cut it.
"But I think because I have came from lower leagues and stuff I don't see it as much as people who have played at the highest level. When I did it, I got accepted off the English lads straight away. My first box or rondo or whatever you want to call it, Hendo told me to f*** off as soon as I went in because I stepped in and it was meant to be the two youngest players."