At one point, the commentators on the feed I was watching mentioned that “Liverpool likes something about matchday three in the Champions League”, citing the Reds’ 7-0 thrashing of Maribor on this day last year. Of course, what Liverpool really likes is playing the sides in the group that probably shouldn’t even be in the competition in the first place. Red Star Belgrade, unfortunately for the Serbian team, is one of those. That’s to take nothing away from Liverpool’s performance in this game after the first few minutes. The movement and precise passing of the team looked a lot more like the offensive juggernaut of the latter half of last season than it has for most of this one. Plus, the performance of the two key oft-not-played players- Shaqiri and Fabinho -was nothing short of excellent, no matter whom the opponent was.
The Cube continued his string of assists, getting a hockey one by feeding Robertson in the corner before the latter fed it back to Bob for the opening goal. But it was his one-touch drop off to Salah that let Mo charge into the box for the game’s second that showed just how much the Swiss national can continue to contribute to this club. His last three starts have each come with an assist and he’s been doing it from spots in the front line and, like this game, from midfield, lending more weight to the versatility that was the strongest argument for his inclusion in last summer’s window. But that argument is also starting to transform into one that talks about his inclusion as a regular starter… which is a nice segué to…
Fabinho, an hour in, had more tackles than any other Liverpool player in a single game so far this season. 31% of his passes went to the front line, far outstripping the numbers put forth by Henderson and Gini in that respect. To be fair, this is just one game and it’s one in which LFC shifted to a 4-2-3-1, so the targets of the “front line” were easier to reach. However, most of us have been waiting for this Fabinho to emerge while Klopp eased him into the way Liverpool plays. Any intelligent person could discard the concerns tossed around by some about how we shelled out 54M for someone who’s barely seen the field. Trust in Klopp™. It was bound to take longer for the Brazilian to adjust, simply based on the expectations that Klopp has for his midfielders, and especially his #6 (in addition to the usual transition from Ligue Un to the EPL, blah blah blah.) The pivot is a key player in both defense and attack for Klopp’s system so it takes a while to adjust. And, man, has this guy adjusted. He was the PIVOT, even if he was sharing duties in a 2-man deep midfield with Gini. As noted before, I’ve been impressed with Gini’s ability at the 6 this season, to the point where I preferred his presence over the team captain. But in one game, even against subpar competition, Fabinho has me questioning my preferences. Plus, at his size, he will generally win more aerial duels than either Hendo or Gini. In point of fact:
That’s some business, yo.
Proving me wrong. Of course I just mentioned that Sturridge wasn’t the creator that Bob is and he follows up by sliding passes to both Manè and Lallana; one for a goal and another that should have been. I’ll just let Danny do his thing.
Tactical change-up. It’s been some time since Klopp deviated from his preferred 4-3-3; opting in this game to go with the starting back 4, but a double pivot of Fabinho and Gini, and then a “front” 3 of Mané, Bob, and Cube, supporting lead striker Salah. Now, it’s fair to mention that Fabinho may have excelled in this game in part because he was playing in the formation that former manager, Bruno Génésio, preferred and used at Monaco while our Brazilian was playing there. But I think his performance exceeded placement on the field.
The real question(s) should be: Was the formation switch a way of shaking the offense loose as Klopp had hoped to do? Or was it just taking advantage of the personnel (Shaq, Fab) on the field? But were those personnel out there because of the lesser threat presented by Red Star, such that it might not have mattered which formation was used? Or was this an actual sign of the latest change by Kloppo who is just using the formation that he thinks will best suit the latest version of the starting XI? The diagram above shows an absolute beatdown with a scoring margin that could have been considerably greater. But there are a lot of little mysteries about what this weekend’s lineup and game plan might be against an almost equally overmatched opponent in Cardiff.
The king is back. Salah scored his 49th and 50th for Liverpool in just his 65th game for the club; the fastest any player for LFC has reached that level. If the entire tactical switch was about getting him better looks, I’d say it was worth it (even if it didn’t appear to function that way in a markedly better fashion than the usual formation.) My one note of concern about this game and a trend that’s been evident in the past month is that Salah often doesn’t look happy when he’s playing. The very muted goal celebrations are just the most obvious manifestation of it. His running feud with the Egyptian FA is surely creating some pressure on him, as is his obvious displeasure with his own performances. I just hope it doesn’t spiral into something else.
Elsewhere around the CL
- Di Maria did the best thing he’s accomplished in years by squaring up PSG and Napoli in the 95th minute and putting us to the top of the group. Our guardian Angel.
- The scoreline says Dortmund thrashed Atleti, but the game action I’ve seen says Atleti was just off for much of it and let Dortmund get away with some easy counters.
- Spurs almost played themselves out of the knockout rounds; their saving grace being that Barca will demolish everyone and it will be left to them to struggle with Inter for the scraps.
- Off the top of my head, I can’t say that I’ve seen this defending technique against a free kick. Those Croats. Always thinking ahead.