There was a moment around the 15-minute mark of Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over Leceister that kind of encapsulated much of the game. Mané had just sent a back pass to Van Dijk that went zipping past him, heading for Alisson. The Dutchman shot one of his trademark stony stares at the forward, expressing in a moment all of the “What the fuck’re ya doin’?” you could need to experience. But that was how a good portion of today’s game went, when one examines events like VVD’s pass back to Alisson, Alisson’s decision to try to toe-touch the end of that pass around Madisson, and any number of passes from Alexander-Arnold, Firmino, and even the redoubtable James Milner. You could even do that VVD scowl at the team is a whole in the second half, given that our 10-minute lapse at the start of the second in the previous three games had somehow extended to 20 this time. It feels odd (self-inflicted VVD scowl) to be thankful for an international break with four straight wins to start the season (for the first time since 1990!), but here I am. Over the past two against Seagulls and Foxes, there’s been something disjointed about the club around the moments of majesty (like today’s first goal between Robertson and Mané.) And we have to get it fixed quickly, because the next month’s matches (as noted a couple days ago) are significant. Maybe we’ll do better against a team with an indeterminate nickname than one with definite fauna involved.
Go do that thing you do. One thing that should definitely happen is Gini’s return to the 6, if he’s on the field. That’s not to say that Henderson’s performance was poor. It wasn’t. But Gini is simply not an attacking mid. Granted, the midfield is flexible enough for him to largely play the redistributor role, but if he’s going to be playing on the right, you want someone who can play that role with a forward mindset to feed Salah. But Gini’s feet aren’t fast enough and he doesn’t have the right positioning instinct for the attacking half. Most of our attacking strength has come from the left side (Robertson, Mané, Keita), which leaves Salah to create on his own on the right. He can do that (most chances created in the EPL this season, to date) but I’d prefer to have him focus more on his finishing, which hasn’t been the greatest this month. Case in point: we should have been up 1-0 in the first 4 minutes and subsequently 3-0 at the half to basically put the game to bed, Alisson mistake or no, but Salah put a sitter past the near post. Obviously, expectations are enormous for him this season, so there’s no reason to panic, especially since we have more than enough offense to compensate if he slows down. But part of that is making sure that we’re not regretting the failure of the Fekir deal sometime in February.
Case in point. We didn’t get much done after the first part of the game. Credit Leceister for charging at us with their own version of the high press and relying on Bighead Maguire (that’s totally a Dick Tracy villain) to handle any chances that got past it. With the money they made on the Mahrez deal and the additions over the summer, I think Leceister has the talent to be a solid side in the league, so I don’t think too much should be made of LFC’s being on the back foot for much of the game.
Hurling. Klopp hired a throw-in coach (duly criticized by former Everton striker Andy Gray; he sounds like those guys who used to criticize things like xG) and the first evidence of it was Trent doing the long throw-in technique most recently employed by Stoke City in the league, by tossing the ball directly into the box a couple times. I’m fine with whichever specialist Klopp wants to bring on board to give LFC another edge in what are going to be tough matches with the rest of the top 6. One thing I’d hope said coach could improve on is Trent’s timing with throws. We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve almost had a whistle blow at him for the length of time he takes to get the ball back in.
Recent memories. Speaking of Shaqiri, I loved the reception that LCFC fans gave him when he stepped on the field. I don’t recall any particular moments that either he or Stoke had against Leceister, but it’s amusing to see what he carried that reputation as one of the more disliked players in the league (mostly because of his earnestness in pursuing the ball and his willingness to foul to get it back) from his time at Stoke. This is like the old Laimbeer thing for those of you that are longer-term Detroit residents: Yeah, he’s an asshole. But he’s our asshole. Personally, I love the idea of having not only a pit bull we can release on people later in games when they’re already starting to tire, but a pit bull who can score like Shaqiri can.
Myth or meme? Jon Champion had quite the day with this game. Not only did he dive into an extended euphemism parade when Ben Chilwell took a ball to the balls, but he also brought up the zonal marking thing when Leceister gave up Firmino’s headed goal off a corner right before the half. There’s a long-running debate over man marking vs. zonal marking on set pieces. Klopp took heavy criticism from hidebound commentators and fans over his favoring the latter in his first couple seasons, as many traditionalists think that patrolling a zone rather than sticking to a man gives opportunities for the offense to take free runs at the ball. The other side of the argument is that man marking can be easily manipulated, allowing players not planning to be in the play at all to move their defender out of the play, as well. The cynical argument is that man marking at least makes it clear for the viewers as to who screwed up when a goal is actually scored. I honestly think there’s room for both systems, based on the preferences of the manager involved and neither is markedly superior over the other. Klopp still seems to favor the zonal system, but the fact is that he now has players (most notably VVD) that are better on set pieces simply because of their size, if not their vision and athletic ability. It’s pretty easy to form a fusion of the two or alternative approach to either system. For example, even though Liverpool still zones, there was no way they were going to let Christian Benteke run around until he was being guarded by Andy Robertson. Van Dijk stuck to him like a second skin and Palace got nothing out of their corners. I don’t think Leceister’s system can be directly blamed for Firmino’s goal, either, since he took a smart step inside before making contact and Milner’s kick was spot on.