The fact that Sheffield United’s nickname is “The Blades” is kind of a happy circumstance for most Premier League commentators. They can slide in references to Chris Wilder’s approach being “cutting edge” and feel quite proud of themselves for being so clever. But there’s another way to look at it that’s not quite as interesting and that’s the concept of putting that cutting edge on in the first place. Usually, you do that by grinding the metal and that’s what I’m betting a number of EPL sides are going to feel like dealing with the Blades this season. In true Proper Football Man fashion, Sheffield are a largely English side of guys who fill up space. Unlike the trolls in Turf Moor, they generally do it without fouling. They present a packed-in defense that other clubs have to try and pry apart. This is not a new experience for LFC. The majority of clubs outside the top 6 will try to do this when we’re on the pitch. The aggravating thing is how effective it’s proven to be when we’re not completely on our game. For as much as various writers (including this one) and NBC and BTSports and other entities have lauded Liverpool for having the grit and tenacity to get wins out of games that would otherwise be draws or the occasional loss, the fact that we’ve had to exercise that tenacity despite a massive talent advantage is something that’s becoming a greater irritant with every passing day (and, admittedly, Man City goal explosion.)
Am I complaining about getting three points when it could’ve been one? … Maybe. You can say that the scoreline was defined by a goalkeeper error and be right. I could also say that the scoreline should’ve been defined by the chances that Mané and Salah both missed and the uncalled penalty that Mané should’ve earned. (Credit has to go to Matthew Upson for calling out the “clear and obvious error” that VAR should have called. Once again, the EPL’s implementation of VAR has been so poor that one almost has to assume that they’re trying to trash the system.) But, in the end, three points is three points and there’s a clean sheet to go with it. That’s the upside. The downside is not having a shot on target until the 70th minute. All due credit to Sheffield, though, as they played great. They have a system that their team is built around and they stick to it. It’s no surprise that, coming into this game and despite being a newly-promoted side, they had gotten their best ever point total (8) out of their first six in the Premier League.
There comes a time, though, when you get tired of grinding out wins that should just be WINS. Our manager isn’t Mourinho and he admitted some frustration at the way the game played out:
But, in the end, he’s right: a win is a win. Even if that victory has to be scraped out of a game where we had somewhere between 70 and 80% possession (ending with 70% because of Sheffield finally trying to carry the ball in the last 10 minutes.)
But a bit more review on VAR. Sadio had a pretty clear penalty call in the second half. Again, at this point, we’re slowly winnowing the possible conclusions about the system’s implementation in the EPL down to: They don’t want it and are determined to make it function so poorly that, when they dispense with it a couple seasons from now, half the fan base will shrug their shoulders because it’s been useless. I’m not normally one who goes for officiating conspiracies, but this one is getting harder to resist with every passing week. Especially when you consider things like this:
I don’t know the methodology of Tomkins’ research or what kind of controls were used that led him to this conclusion, but that’s just the extra layer of Proper Football Man that we see in evidence every time someone plays a team like Burnley and the officials wave off more contact that you’d see in the (currently being played) Rugby World Cup. But the overall picture, aside from the potential casual bias to homegrowns, is that the system simply isn’t being used properly; overemphasizing offsides calls to the frustration of both sides and not properly calling penalties to the frustration of the team actually making attacks. One can only hope that the increasingly regular consternation on the part of the various media outlets (can’t say NBC would be thrilled to know that their product is seen as flawed by a growing portion of their audience) will finally push the fossils at Gloucester Place into the 21st century.
Oh, yeah. The game. It was a slog. Bramall Lane is one of the more hostile places to play in English football on a good day, as it’s a decent size (32K) but the entire crowd is very active, and this wasn’t a good day, weather-wise; from pelting rain to blazing sunshine and back and sometimes both at once. It’s a rare day when you see a keeper have to put a baseball cap on to make sure he can see what’s happening on the field and this was one of those days.
That big square is Salah missing a chance while in a 1-on-1 with Henderson. The slightly smaller one is Mané hitting the post. The next one to the right of the spot is Firmino not taking a chance that was easily his. So, yeah, the malaise was everywhere. Origi replacing Hendo after an hour and shifting to the 4-2-3-1 did have some impact, as motion in the offensive half became a bit easier, since Sheffield’s back line had to pay attention to a more layered attack, with Salah dropping in behind them in the center of the field. In mild contrast, the back line had a better day, highlighted by Virg:
Sheffield tried the same thing that everyone is going to try this season, in attempting to take advantage of Robertson and TAA being so far up the field. Problem is, Sheffield isn’t really built to be speedy on the wings and the way they play defense makes it a long hike for their guys to get out there on the break. Most of their tries came against Trent, like usual. I don’t think that’s a measure of his defensive frailties so much as it is teams trying to attack the side that doesn’t have Van Dijk. Speaking of Flying Dutchmen…
Gini’s greater involvement in the offense lately has only added on to his brilliant holding qualities. I consider it a lesser game if there isn’t at least one moment where he’s digging balls out from multiple defenders and then moving it to start the attack again. He did that multiple times today and ended up with a goal to his credit. Now we just have to work on those turns around the box… It’s also interesting to note that, in that formation, he’s part of a double pivot with Fabinho, but he was still ranging quite far forward on his side, confident in the Brazilian’s ability to cover the back 4.
On Origi. In tight games like these, Klopp is prone to going into lockdown mode; trading out forwards for centerbacks, adding the robot warrior to the midfield to disrupt attacks, etc. What I liked in this game was that Origi was clearly added as an offensive impact player and he delivered. It wasn’t just the formation change that made things easier. Origi has physical presence that he didn’t have in Klopp’s first year, as the almost-waifish attacker whom we all remember starting the comeback against Dortmund. He’s not a hold-up guy, but he’s solid enough on the ball and imposing enough in size that it takes more than one defender to pay attention to him, because he has really good feet for someone of his size. Given the wealth of talent on the bench, it’s exciting to know that there’s more than one area on the field that we can bring someone on to give us that burst or change that we need to get past these more difficult defensive teams. People were crying about not having signed a striker or “creative midfielder”, but that’s because we already have what we need sitting at Melwood and Origi is just the most obvious of those.
- Liverpool could be kicked out of the League Cup for Chirivella not having his paperwork in order or something. Downside: Less time for the kids/bench. Upside: No more stupid League Cup. We’ll probably just get fined.
- The details about the potential kit deal with Nike are kind of a mixed bag. The money is less than what New Balance currently pays up front and considerably less than deals Nike has signed with other clubs like PSG. But the rumor is that LFC thinks they’ll make more money simply because people will actually be able to buy the kit, rather than dealing with the perpetual shortages that have been reality with NB. Regardless, the latter is suing so we’ll see how that shakes out.
OK. Midweek is goalscoring fiesta in Salzburg. Rumor had it that Keita stayed back on Melwood to do fitness training, perhaps in hopes of making a start against his old club. After that, we welcome back former manager, Brendan Rodgers, and the King Powah lads from the Midlands. The fun never stops.