I don’t know how many of you have ever played a MOBA like DotA2 or League of Legends, but there’s a phenomenon that often takes place in those games where one player is lured into a situation that they have no chance of surviving. Say one group puts on a big, blustering attack right at the start and, bloodlust aroused, their opponents decide to charge right after them when they quickly retreat as soon as any resistance is displayed. Those people foolish enough to keep chasing often get led into a cul-de-sac or some other deadly situation and get wiped out, putting them out of the game for a while and giving the advantage to their formerly retreating opponents. This is called “ganking”. It doesn’t happen often at the highest levels because most pro players (The last Dota2 world championships had a total prize pool of $39 million, so your kids aren’t just “wasting their time playing those video games!”) are canny enough not to get sucked in like that. But sometimes your opponents are just better at the game than you are and things can go awry. This is what I imagine the feeling was like after halftime today in Luminus Arena.
That’s not to say that KRC Genk isn’t talented. They’re in the Champions League, so obviously there’s talent there. But there’s “top of the Jupiler Pro League” talent and then there’s Liverpool. Hi. We’re Liverpool. Nice to see you again. All due credit to the Belgian side, as they came out ready to play in the same way they did against Napoli a couple weeks ago. They stayed wide to limit the impact of our fullbacks and kept the 4-4 section of their 4-4-1-1 close together to constrain the movement of Bob and the slightly more fleet-footed midfield of Keita and Ox. They also gladly took advantage of our high back line to keep lofting Route 1 balls overhead, catching us out a couple times with the towering Paul Onuachu and captain Mbwana Samatta. But once we got that sorted and came out in our more relentless mode in the second half, everything reverted to what most assumed would be the normal result: Hey! You chased us to the second half! Great. Hi. We’re Liverpool. This is where the ganking happens. Sorry ’bout that. See you again in a couple weeks.
Oxcellent. Alex O-C may have been correct in that the very early goal created by the strangely passive Genk defense, the stunned keeper, and his arrow along the grass into the far corner from outside the box, may have resulted in a bit of complacency on the Reds’ part. What followed after that was kind of a replay of what had happened against ManU on the weekend: losing a lot of second balls, easy giveaways, and an opponent that seemed determined to play harder than we were. For all the “champions grind things out” talk that’s been going on for the first couple months of the season, you do reach a point where you just have to outscore your opponents and make them give up. That point usually occurs in January and February in the EPL, so here’s a toast to finally having a mid-season break around that time?
It’s great to see Ox finally get some real time in a game and to do so well. That second goal was quite the beauty (I love the French commentators for some things.) He said that the pass from Bob was a little faster than he expected and he didn’t trust the left foot with it, so he just tried to guide it with his right and, once again, caught keeper Gaetan Coucke completely flat-footed; not that he would have had much chance, given the almost perfect arc of the ball and the glance off the bar. That said, if you look at that “2/6 tackles” line up there as the only soft spot in Ox’s game, it’s fair to think that some of the aforementioned defensive issues may have been because Genk had more space in the middle third to deliver some of those long balls to their two strikers. In other words, as brilliant as it is to see Ox and Keita in the midfield, Gini, Hendo, and Milner are the regulars because they control that space. Get that bit shored up and keep the scoring threat and the sky’s the limit for Ox, just as we (and Klopp) have always hoped.
Naby things. Speaking of sky limits, those stats above are stupid good. Keita often played as a pivot in Leipzig, so he knows the defensive control game and excels at it. But Klopp bought him for his versatility on both ends of the pitch and he showed it off going forward, as well, with 138 touches (most of anyone in the game), 93% passing accuracy, 100% completion on long passes, and an assist to go along with the ridiculous stats above. This is what we’ve been waiting for: the point where our midfield depth becomes deadly and we can take some of the scoring pressure off the front three or, even better, further enable it so that the threat is coming from the middle, as well as Robbo and Trent, or shifts to the middle when either of them isn’t available or has been marked out by the opponent (see: ManU.) Just to further drive home the point about the flexibility and ability of ALL of our midfield players, the second-prettiest goal of the night was Sadio’s chip which was started by Gini with a smart pass to the outside for Bob; smart because it forced Bob’s marker to come with him, leaving space for the pass to Salah and then the delivery in the box to Mané. It’s not like our other guys aren’t capable and Naby is now the long-awaited coming of a Creative Midfielder™. That said, he shows all the signs of (finally) being brilliant, so here’s hoping he stays off the injured list as long as he can.
The production line. I mean, what else can be said that hasn’t been said before? This is still arguably the best front three in Europe and all of them got in on the act tonight, with an assist for Bob and a goal and assist for both Sadio and Mo. On that note, it’s unfortunate that almost no one will remember Firmino’s sick rabona to Mané midway through the first half, because Sadio just couldn’t manage the finish. But now you’ll remember, so make sure to show your kids how to be so awesome that people think Barney is right. And, of course, we can’t forget the final display of the evening, which was Salah wearing Cuesta like a backpack before turning, shrugging him off, and stepping past the oncoming Maehle to finish all on his own. It’s the same move he used on Maguire two season ago and Koulibaly last year and all of Spurs’ and Watford’s back lines, as well. It’s more than enough contact to go down and get the whistle, but since that happens so rarely, he has the strength to just put it away. Awesome stuff, yo.
OK. Six points, one back of Napoli, and a visit from Genk coming up. Things seem relatively secure. Before that, we have to deal with the Sunday Spurs, who’ve gone from a team that seemed in some distress to one that smacked down an undermanned Red Star side. We’ll see which Pochage shows up this weekend, I guess.