It’s times like these when I think about Groucho Marx. Those that know me well will understand my attachment to the legendary comedian, since there was never a motive he couldn’t doubt or a balloon he couldn’t pop. As one of the LFC fans who was amidst the outer perimeter of those Klopp said needed to be turned from doubters to believers, I’ve definitely crossed over in this most recent transfer window and, as I’ve said, was pointedly unconcerned about our draw in the Champions League or, for that matter, going head-to-head with the rest of the top 6. Our toe-stubbing point for the past couple years has been anyone but the top 6, but in the early stages of this season, Liverpool has repeatedly proved that grinding out wins against low block, low table sides is also no longer a concern. With West Ham’s stonewalling of Chelsea today, Liverpool sits two points clear of Chelsea and City, atop the EPL table. But Groucho had words for this moment, too:
And it is early. Six games is less than 1/6 of the Premier League season and the two sides running second are our next two games, mixed in with a League Cup challenge against the Blues and a trip to the Stadio San Paolo. Liverpool Juniors (aka Southampton) was supposed to be the “game that could be overlooked” in a stretch that began with Tottenham and PSG. But this Liverpool side seems to be ready for any and all competitors, resulting in the fairly mundane dispatch of the Saints, 3-0. In the last five league games against LFC, Southampton has two draws and three losses, without a single goal being scored by the south coast club. The last Southampton player to score against the Reds was… Sadio Mané, Of course, the last time Liverpool won their first seven games was… never. So, it’s fair to say that this time through might be different, even if the contenders for the title are more difficult and numerous than they often were in the past.
Proper rotation. It’s mildly hilarious that Klopp chose to rotate Shaqiri and Matip into the starting XI only to see them directly contribute to all three goals that were scored; the 6′ 5″ Matip left completely unmarked to get the 2nd and Shaqiri kicking what ended up being both the own goal and the free kick that Salah tapped in. If anything will convince people that we have depth unknown to LFC since the 80s, that will. I still think Matip is a little slow on moving the ball to its next target, but I really think Shaqiri deserves more time. Hopefully, at least Der Kraftwürfel will be starting for one of the front three in the League Cup match so at least another third of the Trio can take a break like Firmino was afforded against PSG.
Saints came to play, kind of. It was interesting to see Southampton’s halfway attempt at playing Liverpool at their own game. Nominally, it was a 4-1-4-1, but they spent a lot of time looking more like a 3-5-2, with Romeu dropping back between the CBs while both FBs pushed far forward and waited for Long and Hojberg to get into the box to receive a cross. That left them plenty of bodies to try to slow LFC down in the middle while still being able to spread wide to try to deal with Trent and Robbo. Of course, shading inside to deal with Salah and Mané meant that most of Liverpool’s attacks were still originating from the wide spots, as well. Trent’s contribution in that respect was significant. It also meant that Southampton’s approach was still utterly dependent on either an opportunistic counter or someone making a mistake in the middle third, which didn’t happen often. Thus, while it looked like their attacks were threatening a couple times, once Klopp had sussed out what they were doing, the Reds shut it down in the second half. The best evidence for that was Southampton not getting a shot on goal until the 89th minute.
System switch. OTOH, the efficacy of Southampton’s attacks and the absence of same in the second half may have been entirely up to Liverpool. The team deployed in a 4-2-3-1, with Salah up front and the Cube right behind him, while Gini and Henderson swept in front of the back four. The problem is that the Cube isn’t accustomed to the same kind of defensive responsibilities as Firmino usually takes on, so there were opportunities for the opposition in the middle third that normally didn’t appear. Once Milner came on and the team shifted back to their customary 4-3-3, normal service was resumed. On the one hand, it’s cool to see Klopp experimenting with different formations that can give the team flexibility in how it handles different opponents. OTOH, they’re already so good at the 4-3-3 and opponents find it so difficult to handle, why switch out? On the third hand, if a different formation works better for a Shaqiri or a Sturridge that are definitely going to handle things like League Cup and FA Cup games in the coming months, why not practice what works best for them so that we have a solid chance of winning said games without having to rush to one of the starters on the bench in order to save our bacon?
Panic in Detroit. It was certainly heart-stopping for any LFC fan to see VVD bent over with his hands on his knees and then finally dropping to the pitch in obvious pain. Thankfully(?), he immediately reached for his ribs, rather than a knee or an ankle or something that usually means an extended period on the sidelines. Klopp later assured everyone that, not only had he had the bruised rib before the PSG game, but that it was nothing especially serious. In fact, he noted that Virgil had asked out of the game largely because “he couldn’t shout anymore.” That’s dedication to task. Besides, it was extremely comforting to see Gomez come in to replace him and watch the CB pairing proceed without a problem. Elite defense, yo.
Now comes the question. How much emphasis to give the often execrable League Cup? It’s still a trophy, even if it is one that no one really cares about and which most long-time fans look at as a drain on resources and player stamina when we could be resting between CL fixtures (You can probably tell which side I come down on…) Then again, as noted above, we do have the depth to compete here, including players that haven’t yet seen the field in a domestic game, like Fabinho, or any game, like Lallana. I’d like to advance with the chance to win it, but not at a cost to any of the real competitions (the EPL, the CL, and eventually the FA Cup, in that order; but mostly the first two.)
Around the Premier League
- Hands up: Who predicted a 4-0 win for Bournemouth over Burnley, based on the first few results? That’s almost everyone. OK. Who predicted the reverse, as actually happened? Right. That’ll be no one. (Stop lying, you guys in the back.)
- Meanwhile, Spurs rescued a tiny bit of Dave’s sanity by at least getting a win against Brighton and stopping their slide. Next up… um… Watford in the League Cup. And then Barcelona. Hm.
- This Pogba soap opera gets more prominent with every game. I feel for the guy, since he’s obviously a spectacular player and the UK media feeds on this kind of frenzy, not least because of Emourinho’s antics.