Anfielder: The Genkening

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Don’t watch Highlander movies. They’re all awful and the sword work is pretty poor (I say this as a former dan-level iaido practitioner.) However, they are something of a cultural institution in the B-movie sci-fi/fantasy realm, such that the tagline “There can be only one.” is prime meme material. One of the other key elements is the burst of magical/spiritual energy that’s released whenever one of the ones is killed in the only way they can be: by being beheaded; known as the ‘quickening’. Now, this isn’t to say that Mbwana Samatta’s excellent (and extremely frustrating) header was inspirational in terms of our title today. No, it was more drawn from the fact that the game seemed to be played in a fog, both atmospherically, since there a mist cloaking Anfield, and athletically, because half the time it seemed like Liverpool was just going through the motions while Genk sat back and waited for something to come at them. When things did come at them, there was a brief and intense flurry of activity in and around their box, another missed LFC shot… and then nothing of note while Liverpool loaded up and tried again; quickening after quickening. Appropriately enough, the Reds completely swapped roles with the Belgian club in the last 10 minutes, as they did their own sitting back in the Euro football equivalent of a “prevent defense” (which I despise) and Genk went hell-for-leather to keep their last two matches in the CL from being glorified exhibitions.

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But, just like Highlanders can’t be killed unless they’re decapitated, as the gaffer said: “The most important thing is: we won and no one got injured.”, which is basically right. Still, this is another example of the “grinding out wins” phenomenon and “giving up cheap goals” phenomenon that seems to be emblematic of this team. ‘Wins’ is the key word in that first phrase and, if they keep coming, complaints should fall away. I’d just like to get to the point where we’re not fretting about giving up the equalizer or, even worse, a winner to a side that’s mid-table in the Belgian league. Maybe our quickening is the long-term kind, where we’ll be able to keep knocking down wins every three days for the next two months while others are falling by the wayside? At the end of the season, there can be only one…

Domination without the payoff. Once again, the stats are ridiculous: We outshot them 28-6, had 72% possession (completing 87% of our passes), and had a 9-1 advantage in corners. For a 1 goal win. However, if you got the impression that we were playing most of the game in training ground mode, you’re not alone. There were some sloppy passes and some uncommonly slow ones that Genk took advantage of. Consider what you saw compared with that 87% completion rate stat and think about just how dominant we had to be to look that casual and still utterly control the game. For a 1 goal win.

Tactical things. Part of that sluggishness may have been the tactical shift on top of differing personnel from the usual starting XI. For the first time, we had Ox in there trying to perform Bob’s usual role. He did OK, at times, but he lacks Firmino’s touch on the ball. Most things with Ox tend to happen very powerfully and very fast. In addition, at one point we shifted to Salah as a hold-up guy, rather than someone to be fed. Given that every defensive line in existence swarms to Mo like bees to honey, that led to a bunch of runs around the box by Keita, Ox, and Origi with what was visible success, except again largely without the payoff, until Ox managed a turn off a brilliant feed from Mo. The downside is that it’s the second game in a row where we’ve given up a goal on a set piece. That’s not a trend I’d like to revisit, thanks. In addition to that, I’ve noted a few uncharacteristic errors from Milner, both tonight and in the League Cup match. Of course, he’s been shuttled all over the field in recent weeks, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he was having a little trouble with his field awareness.

Make that 24 games. The flipside to the complaints about winning narrow or grindy games is that it shows a level of consistency. We’re now on 45 EPL games straight at Anfield without a loss and 24 in the CL/Europa. It’s that kind of daunting dominance that shows up when your 6’4″ CB can run down the break before it even gets to the midfield line. There’ve been stories fluttering around the Reddits about Barcelona still having PTSD about That Game. We expect wins now at home (and, really, on the road), no matter the opponent. It’s nice to be back.

There can be only one, but somehow we’re going to be in two places at once. Klopp spends a good chunk of the above press conference answering a question about the schedule snafu surrounding the League Cup and Club World Cup games. Apparently, the “solution” to that problem was Liverpool agreeing to play two games in the space of 24 hours. That means that the squad staying in Birmingham for the League Cup will be as many academy types as last time, with a few reserves to fill out the 18. I have no problem with this BECAUSE NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE FUCKING LEAGUE CUP and anyone who cares about the players’ welfare would all be perfectly content to go back to one cup competition like everyone else in Europe except… sigh… France and England. (Considering the half-full stadia in France for most matches, one could reasonably ask why they’re the only other nation to have a second national cup competition. I do not have the answer.) Whether Klopp is going to manage that game and then immediately fly to Qatar for the next one on the following day has not been determined. When I was younger, I don’t think I could’ve conceived of a time when I’d say there’s too much football, but…

Anyway, that’s over until Napoli on the 27th. Pour all the ammo into Sunday and then we have another international break. If things go our way, we go into that break with a 9 point lead. Let’s do this.

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