People are always trying to draw parallels where they don’t exist. This happens in all facets of society but has ramped up in the age of the Internet, since events and their surrounding statistics are much more accessible. I could link a half dozen games that Liverpool played last year (and just did) to make a point that really didn’t need making or doesn’t carry the meaning that people are assigning to it. Witness: the stories already emerging about Liverpool finding their groove again on the backs of a team that really shouldn’t have been participating in anything daring to call itself the “Champions League.” Last year, it was a 7-0 drubbing of Maribor that supposedly kicked off the offensive torrent that carried on through much of the rest of the season. This year, it’s the slightly less impressive (or farcical, depending on how you look at it) 4-0 pasting of Red Star Belgrade. What most are glossing over is that the EPL game that followed the win over Maribor was, in fact, the genuinely transformative 4-1 loss to Spurs.
That was the game where Klopp finally drilled into his squad the concept of defending as a team, rather than trying to do so as disparate parts. After that, it wasn’t so much the torrent of goals as it was the limitation of opposing sides’ chances that really carried the team forward to a top 4 finish and the CL final. The 6-1 aggregate over Man City in the CL quarters wasn’t about the six goals we scored, although that is impressive. It was about limiting that offensive machine to one goal and very few real chances. The counterpoint, of course, is that Liverpool attacks as a team, too, right? So, opponents have to sit back and take fewer chances because of the threat of LFC’s offense which, in turn, helps the defense. Chicken? Egg?
One would have thought that Neil Warnock knew that better than anyone, since he’d peppered (ahem) the press in the days before the match with comments that can only be styled supplicating, if not outright capitulatory. I mean, I appreciate that he thinks we can win the league. So do I. But maybe it’s not the best thing to be declaring to the press that you hope that your upcoming opponent wins it? Because, you know, part of someone else winning the league title usually means beating your team. But that may just be Warnock openly admitting a similar reality to what I cited above about Maribor and Red Star: Cardiff really shouldn’t be playing in the Premier League. What you’d like to have is a competitive league where body bag games are few and far between. Current circumstances for the top 6 means that most of the games they’ll play in a season will be looked upon as “should be auto-wins”, even in soccer, which has the lowest reliability factor among any of the major sports (i.e. the odds are far closer to 50-50 in most matches than anything in the NFL, NBA, NHL, etc.) But there’s a certain level where you’re simply questioning why these two teams are on the field together, given that one wants to play football and the other one mostly doesn’t.
But that’s the same argument that college football fans have put forward for years: There should simply be a top division of the best 60 teams and they can only play each other. That’d be fine… except what do you do about teams like Rutgers? Maybe it should just be 50 teams, cutting off the lowest of the low branches? But how do you determine that? And round and round we go. Will money, based on super-wealthy owners or institutional inertia, define the elite in Euro football? Based on current results, you could argue that Fulham don’t deserve to be in the EPL, either, and they spent £100M in the last window, so that’s no solution.
Oh, yeah. The game.
I mean, whatevs. We drilled a side we’re supposed to drill and gave up an easy one on a poor deflection by Virg that put it on a plate for Paterson. Yes, as good as VVD is, he does occasionally make mistakes. That was one of them, even though Mané took responsibility for exposing Moreno. I’m still not sure whether Virg was trying to bounce it out for a corner or propel it toward Alisson for an easy save. Except that if it was a kick toward Alisson, he wouldn’t have been able to handle it and, thus, couldn’t make a save. So, yeah, a poor deflection which left us one short of the club record for clean sheets in the league and ended the opposing goalless streak at Anfield something short of sixteen hours. I repeat: whatevs.
The interesting part is that we stuck with the 4-2-3-1 that was used against Belgrade, despite Jim Proudfoot on NBC’s broadcast asserting that it was a “variation” on the 4-3-3/ (Y’see, Jim, when Salah stays alone up top, in front of Mané, Firmino, and Lallana, while Gini and Fabinho hang back, that’s not a 4-3-3, even if they might drop back or Salah might run to his usual wing spot to, y’know, play the ball… nevermind.) What’s even more interesting about that is the number of times that play was initiated through Fabinho. Starting play with the six (or one of two sixes) isn’t unusual. You’ll see that happen all the time when Henderson plays a traditional DM role. But Henderson is usually just covering and redistributing, leaving the attack to flow through Milner/Gini/Keita/whoever. In this formation, it was very clear that Fabinho was the intended “flow point”, as it were, because any number of attacks, both counters and planned, started with our new DM; both from his precise passing (88% success) and him simply carrying the ball forward through the middle third (he ran the greatest distance in the game for LFC, at 11.2 km.)
Arcing past the ridiculous to the sublime.
Just as a reminder: Klopp took over the managerial spot in October of 2015. Given the heavily-documented tendency of sports officials to favor the home crowd, the fact that we can’t draw a whistle at Anfield seems to be an indication of a bias. This is on top of the fact that Liverpool is always among the league leaders in touches in the opponent’s box since Klopp arrived (trailing only Man City; raise your hand if you’re surprised), as a result of his aggressive style. Yet somehow we can’t draw a call when stuff like this happen on the regular:
He held our guy, preventing offensive movement, in the box. At one point, he had an arm wrapped across Salah’s chest, freezing him in place, before the two of them separated and Salah fell backwards. That’s a foul. In the box. That’s a penalty. This kind of thing happens routinely to Salah, as well as Bob and Sadio. Yes, Mané took a dive against Red Star. No argument. But when our guys are being tackled, American-style, on a regular basis without whistles, I’m not going to apologize for anything. You think we score a lot now? Think how much we might be scoring if we got the occasional whistle in the box. At Anfield.
The Powercube. Still cubing. I think we’ve finally reached the point where we simply have to start this guy more often. I realize that Klopp is eager to rotate through this stretch of games (except, y’know, next week) and that an opponent like Cardiff is a prime opportunity to give someone like Lallana some run. However, the key phrase there is “someone like Lallana” since it’s becoming increasingly apparent that, no matter how valuable he may have been to us two years ago, he no longer is today. As soon as he came off for Shaqiri, the game changed because the latter injected the attack with energy and a passing touch that, frankly, Lallana has never had. Plus, if Klopp is going to continue with the 4-2-3-1, that formation is ideal for Shaqiri’s skillset.