Arrrrr! The king of the no-look goal has altered his approach. Now it’s a one-eyed goal because he only needs one eye even when he’s actually looking. It’s just Firmino’s way of, once again, stretching the parameters of his position. He’s already one of the best center forwards in Europe. He’s arguably the best false 9 in Europe. And he remains the engine that makes Liverpool’s attack the best on the continent. Giving up two goals to one of the other best attacks in Europe is understandable, even if one was incredibly lucky (and generated from an uncalled offside on Cavani) and the other was gifted to PSG off a poor pass from Salah. Add in the goal taken from Salah and Liverpool’s dominance of both possession in the second half and the better share of chances in the first and this was, once again, a game that felt like Liverpool should have won by more than they did. If this trend continues, at some point later in the season, we’re going to have to take a serious look at the xG numbers and perhaps question if the inability to finish as a team is a sign of something. But at this point, the sample size is simply too small. Plus, the upside is that this may just be a sign of a team rounding into shape early in the campaign that in previous seasons would have produced draws from wins or even losses from wins. To date, we have wins from wins and you can’t get any better than that, especially considering that the last two have come over a contender for top 4 in the EPL and the inevitable Ligue 1 champion who remains a serious contender for the Champions League title.
Seriously: James Milner, robot warrior. One can easily argue that Milner was the man of the match. He was everywhere, doing things like this:
That’s a destroyer, man. Like usual, he kept the ball moving, covered as much or more ground than anyone, and put in a sterling penalty to give the hosts a 2-0 lead. He also continued his record of never losing a Premier League or Champions League game that he’s scored in. 16 years, yo. He was just the biggest star of our midfield that totally worked PSG’s. It got to the point in the second half where they didn’t even try to bring the ball up through the middle third; relying completely on the long ball to Mbappe and Cavani’s dashes or waiting for the sparse counter opportunities that Liverpool allowed them.
Or you can starting arguing logic, I guess? Thomas Tuchel’s press conference was kind of a hoot, in which he argued that the result “was not logical or correct” and claimed that his team’s effort in the second half wasn’t completely overshadowed by Liverpool’s. He does at least acknowledge that “this is what Liverpool do” when mentioning that the Reds’ press made things difficult for his side. You can understand how there might be some degree of bitterness in this, his second consecutive trip to Anfield where we’ve pulled out a last-minute win. After all, Sakho scoring and then Lovren’s header probably wouldn’t be considered logical or correct by most people, either. He also claimed that he put Neymar on the left because Liverpool doesn’t allow space for a number 10 to operate (“You have to remember that Liverpool’s closing down is second nature. It’s automatic to them. They do it naturally.”), which is just another admission that his midfield was totally outclassed by ours, but putting Neymar, who never tracks back, on the left just opened up the right channel for Liverpool to keep exploiting. Seems logical to me.
Trent and the AA+ effort. Besides, giving the ball to Neymar just fed him right into our young fullback’s clutches: 91 touches, 45/57 passes, 5/6 tackles, 3/5 long balls, 3 successful crosses, 2/2 dribbles, 1 key pass. That’s a pretty solid performance against the Quarter Billion Dollar Man. Trent remains the most notable achievement of the Liverpool academy in quite some time. Plus, he’s still only 19(!) and is already playing in his second CL campaign following a World Cup. Oh, and he’s the starting right back for one of the best teams in the Premier League right now. I still feel badly for Nathaniel Clyne getting Wally Pipped, but Trent is a key member of that elite defense I was talking about on Saturday and he’s only getting better.
Study in contrasts. It feels great to see Sturridge get serious action (i.e. something other than the last 10 minutes) and contribute in such a positive manner. He’ll never be the false 9 that Bob is, since he’s an actual 9 and his excellent positioning will have a positive offensive result much of the time, as seen with the first goal. But there’s no arguing that the attack kind of slows down when Sturridge is in, since he’s not as fast as Firmino and isn’t even as fast as the Daniel of old. If that means he’s pacing himself to avoid injury, I am all for it. Better to have him available, even at a slower speed. I wonder, though, how it changes the roles of Salah and Mané, as well as the attacker and recycler behind him. You could definitely see Wijaldum diving forward more often with Sturridge hovering around the box, but that also may have been a factor of PSG deploying a CB (Marquinhos) and Di Maria in the midfield. Retaining possession in and around PSG’s penalty area was obvious simply from looking at LFC’s advantage in corner kicks: 13 to 1; another sure sign of a team more securely winning a game than the scoreline would indicate.
Wall still standing. PSG averages 6.4 shots-on-goal/match. Liverpool held them to 5; only one in the second half (Yes. That one went in.) Scoring chances were relatively minimal.
Neymar was contained. Mbappe was largely contained by the stalwart Andy Robertson. Cavani was mostly ignored (even by the officials…) This is Liverpool now: crushing it on both ends of the pitch. Now, about that finishing…
Around the Champions League
Um… wut? I checked the score of Tottenham-Inter at the hour mark, saw Spurs 1-0 and thought: “That seems right.” Then I get a DM from Dave talking about how he hates football, especially international football and I was all: “Oh.” One is hard-pressed in recent years to say that the 2-1 win by Inter was anything but a Spurs flop, given the relative talent and success of the two sides.
That was also the only really exciting game, given the controlled demolition of PSV by Barelona (4-0; yawn), the sitting contest that Red Star successfully engaged in against Napoli (0-0; YAWN), the similar effort by Brugge against Dortmund until Pulisic found a chipper in his way; and so on. Admittedly, it’s still the Champions League and it’s still at least mildly entertaining in a way that a weekend full of Leicester vs Brighton will never be, but there wasn’t much in the way of drama outside of Anfield and the Meazza. First games, though.