Knights of Ni(a)


Liverpool’s casual destruction of Man United yesterday was a genuine team effort, as there were solid performances all over the pitch. It has to be said, of course, that it wasn’t your typical ManU side, since many of them (Paul Pogba) are still just getting back from a break (Paul Pogba) after lengthy efforts in the World Cup (Paul Pogba.) That didn’t stop Mourinho from making rather odd and one might say ‘disinterested’ lineup changes. If you really were as indifferent to the outcome as you think the fans should have been, why play Sanchez and Herrera for almost the entire game? Far be it from me to understand the inner workings of the Special One, but it’s almost as if you can see Mourinho tiring of life with ManU (and, uh, ManU fans) as he speaks. Paul Pogba can only hope.

LFC still had the advantage in personnel, even with wholesale changes both between halves and during the second half. The lack of both Dejan Lovren (Paul Pog-, um, World Cup break) and Joel Matip (injury) meant that knight errant of Estonia, Ragnar Klavan, lined up alongside Virgil Van Dijk for the first half. On the one hand, it was great to see Klavan recovering nicely when Mata tried to get behind him. OTOH, Mata kept getting behind him, demonstrating again the mildly disturbing trend that Liverpool’s back line have shown in this preseason, which is getting beaten and having to scramble on relatively simple passes. And they were simple. Mourinho kept his formation packed together for much of the game, such that ManU rarely had to complete a pass longer than 10 or 15 yards. That was even more evident in the second half, after the Danger Duo of Salah and Mane had left the field, and he thought they no longer had to worry about the two of them ducking in and out. So, while it was great to see Klavan able to recover and our section of the stadium (north end zone) cheered him on every time he did so, one has to question why he had to recover so often, especially in what was your typical half-speed “friendly” much of the time.

And then the knight resolute (like, say, a cube…) of Albania arrived. I’ll admit that I shrugged my shoulders when the idea of grabbing Xherdan Shaqiri from relegated Stoke City was mentioned. He’s always been a strong player, especially when highlighted by some degree of surrounding talent (i.e. not Stoke), such as when he plays for the Swiss national side. But in terms of the transfer window, he’s not a Fabinho or an Alisson. I figured he’d be a great depth pick; someone to spell Mane or Salah or Firmino for League Cup games or to fill one of the attacking slots in the midfield. He’d be a great value for his versatility and we could get him in what qualifies for “cheap” in today’s market (£12M.) But yesterday showed more than I expected. He played a largely central role for Stoke and that’s what he did yesterday for Liverpool; almost like we were playing a diamond and he was the fourth mid at the apex of that shape. He kept shifting around and disrupting United’s back line until he finally cleared his own personal space in the box and fed Sturridge for a daisycutter into the far corner. Shortly thereafter, United’s box became a volleyball court, as Liverpool constantly tossed the ball back and forth, looking to exploit any of several openings, until this happened:

He’s done this before, so it’s not completely unexpected, but it’s still pretty impressive to watch (and happened right in front of us.) And to do it on your debut? Against our greatest rival? Even in a friendly, that’s 12 million well spent. (And, yes, nerds: I know it’s “Knights who say Ni”. Sue me.)

Other things

More than one person on Twitter noted that Liverpool had been granted more penalty kicks in a friendly in Ann Arbor than they were in the entirety of the 2017-18 season at Anfield. The officiating in the ICC games has not been great but they at least got one thing right: If Liverpool’s whole game is to create forward pressure which leads to goals and our guys keep getting taken down in the box, then maybe something should be done about it? That said, the call for Robertson on the second penalty was questionable, at best. No sense competing with Spurs for the Olympic diving title, Robbo. They’ve got it locked up. But, again, if that’s what has to happen in order to get the calls that we should be getting…? Yeah. Fine. Whatevs.

It’s been great to see Sturridge playing with some of his old aplomb on this American tour. While I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the glory moments of five years ago (he doesn’t quite have the burst that he did, then, but most of us don’t), it would be great to see him play semi-regularly and be even close to the spectacular offensive threat that he once was.

This is just funny:

That kid has balls of solid rock. Alisson is known for doing similar things, so Grabara has probably been taking notes.

Well done to all of the fans who came out yesterday. Haven’t seen so many red shirts in Michigan Stadium since the last Ohio State game in the Rodriguez era. That said: WTF? How did both teams end up in road kits? Imagine the casual fan reading the scoreboards and their descriptions of both sides before the game: “LFC nickname: The Reds.” [Looks at field.] “ManU nickname: The Red Devils.” [Looks at field.] Next time, be like the fans. Somebody.

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