Somewhere, in the not-too-distant future, when the coasts have been reshaped by the rising tides and the drier, hotter Earth has a red-tinged sky throughout the day, you’ll find the only surviving Red, James Milner, revealed to be the human-shaped machine that I’ve always suggested he is, giving that same steely-eyed glare toward a group of intruders. It could be a cluster of chrome-lipped raiders seeking Valhalla (Witness me!) It could be the more advanced automatons that the AI running Facebook has released on the remaining populace, finally disgusted with humanity’s overall stupidity. It could just be a bunch of Spurs fans, still hoping someone will pay attention to them. But James Milner, robot warrior, will stare them down, nudging the case of Ribena behind him with that deadly right foot, and the onlookers will know that the day is saved, their life-giving elixir preserved. Because of their guardian they- like Milner -will endure on the edge of survival.
Liverpool played this entire game on the edge; on the edge of scoring, the edge of victory, and finally the edge of dropping points for the first time this season. Considering the redonkulous number of great chances that we had and our general domination of the game,
one would be sorely mistaken to take the perspective that Liverpool “escaped” with anything. It would have been Leicester stealing a point from a game in which they probably should have been down 4-0 at the half, with Firmino, Milner, and Salah simply not finishing easy ones (and Robbo failing to finish another 1v1 in the second) and Mané actually scoring probably the most difficult goal of those opportunities and, incidentally, putting away his 50th EPL goal in his 100th EPL game for LFC (and off a pretty brilliant assist from Milner.) That said, it’s kind of hilarious to see the about face from so many other EPL fans who swore up and down that “VAR would ruin Liverpool” now claiming that VAR is the tool that the EPL is using to ensure that we win the title. IIRC, we still are among the lowest in penalties awarded in EPL games this season and were last season, too, so I don’t think the cameras/computers/machines are quite on our side. Just the robot warriors.
Statistics and xG. I’m including the usual Caley Graphics image just to draw a comparison with that of InfoGol above. I’m a believer in statistics. I think they’ve done wonders to change the game in baseball, basketball, and American football. I think they’re starting to do that in our kind of football, but there’s still some smoothing out to be done and there’s always going to be a higher degree of variance in predictive stats like xG just because of the random nature of the game. Many statisticians would say that the degree of difference between Caley’s 2.7 and InfoGol’s 3.1 is pretty significant. Fact is, there is no one, supreme method for determining xG, so taking one number from Opta and declaring it to be the marker for why the club isn’t doing this or winning that or how badly a “creative midfielder” is needed is pretty pointless. I tend to stick with Caley (and, thus, Opta) because I’ve found theirs to be pretty reliable and because they make nice, concise images that I can swipe (Just FYI: I don’t just link their tweets because they usually thread them with other, lesser EPL games.) But we’re a long way out from knowing for certain what makes the best player or the best team. Numbers can support one’s argument. They don’t make it for you. Just as an example: LFC outshot Leicester 18-2 today and 8-1 on target. That seems like a pretty dominant win, right? And, if you watched the whole game, it was Liverpool who dominated, for the most part. But the scoreline says 2-1, so, there it is.
Man of the match. I’m also not one of those prone to being swayed by the most obvious number on the stats sheet: the goals and the guys who scored them. Too often I think the “man of the match” simply gets tossed to the guy who may have been in the right place at the right time or happened to score the one goal that provided the winning edge. See: the lauding of Hamez Milner above (or any end of game penalties scenario where somehow the last guy to hit one is hailed as the hero, even if his was only one of five successful kicks.) But a lot of other things happen on the pitch that should earn said players that title of “best of show.” Milner is lauded above because he did do those things:
in addition to completing the winning penalty shot. Likewise, Mané did the same. Of our three forwards, no one tracked back farther and more often than Sadio today and no one completed as many crucial tackles when he did come back into the defensive zone:
He was a machine and, consequently, has a strong argument for that MOTM plaudit. But there were others like him. Trent has to be lauded for his ridiculous numbers and, unfortunately, missed assists:
Five interceptions and 2/3 tackles for the defender who supposedly can’t defend, right? Tell me another one. Speaking of which, I had waves of appreciation for Dejan Lovren today. He’s been given precious little game time over the past year, with only the League Cup match vs MK Dons in this season. Despite Gomez having an uneven game on Wednesday, I expected him to be on the field today. Seeing Lovren made me arch an eyebrow, but he responded beautifully. Charged with tracking Jamie Vardy’s every move on the field, he did so almost flawlessly, handled the ball well, made a few clearances, including on Leicester’s multiple corners, and generally looked as calm and assured as the actual Best Defender in the World™ playing alongside him. We have four excellent CBs and that’s a helluva luxury.
Stratergeny. Klopp has emerged with something of a pattern this season when he swaps in Origi for Bob and we move to the 4-2-3-1. That often means that Gini will move forward to the center of the 3, while Mané goes right with Salah out front, or he’ll go back to share the double pivot with Fabinho. But this was a double substitution which brought Gini out for Hendo, as well. That meant Mané moving to the middle, while Hendo took the spot on the right. I usually think that the formation change-up is largely to preserve Bob’s legs, since he does more running than anyone else. But the switch is also a disruptive tactic, since the defense will now have to stretch more to contain Salah, which opens up a lot of room for whomever is in the middle. In this case, it led to Mané being in the spot to grab the ball before Schmeichel could, which led to the penalty and the win. Of course, the 4-2-3-1 is often seen as a defensive formation, since it’s easy to pack the midfield and slow the game down while the back line is totally covered. So, I think it’s serving a dual purpose, in that it’s giving us opportunities to threaten in a different fashion, but also perhaps preserving games that we’re trying to close out. Kloppo knows his stuff.
Officiating. Look, it was a penalty. Was it the nailed on, just-short-of-murder routine that often happens to EPL forwards? No. But it was a foul and, thus, a penalty. Furthermore, Leicester should count themselves lucky that we didn’t get one earlier for Soyüncü’s half-nelson on Salah (just outside the box) and that Chowdhury stayed on the field after getting a yellow that should’ve been a red for a tackle on Salah late in the game. I still find the EPL way too willing to “just let the lads play” without stating whether the lads are playing rugby or football. Furthermore, as we’ve been speaking about officiating biases a lot lately, I found it really interesting how Harvey Barnes plowed right through Milner in the first half, which passed without notice by Kevin Clancy, but Ndidi did basically the same thing a few minutes later and- presto! The yellow card appears. I’ll let you figure out the respective skin tone/national origin of those two players.
Next week: We got nothin’, as everyone is either resting up (Keita, Salah) or doing damage with their national sides. After that, we’re trying to tie some record against the lesser House of Manc at their outdated stadium (It says “Old” right in the name!) Long way to go.