I hate playing Carlo’s teams. They’re one of the worst expressions of the defensive tendencies that used to dominate Serie A. They sit back in that 4-4-2 and just try to choke the life out of the game until you give them an opening while gasping for air, at which point they pounce and try to get something from it. He had massive success with Milan after being sacked by Juventus for losing a 5 point lead with 3 games to play; mostly because his teams refused to try to score. He was later sacked by Bayern largely for boring people to death, since most of Bayern’s fan base and their entire board has Abramovich Syndrome. I mean, obviously, I’m a fan of more dynamic football than the “sit deep and counter” approach, too, so it’s not like I can blame them. But for any of you who’ve never seen his teams play before, I can only say: You think Mourinho was bad? The mild exception was Milan, because they were so insanely talented. And, yes, I realize that Rafa liked to play the same way (through which I often gritted my teeth, much as I appreciated the man), which makes the fact that that 2005 final was so exciting one of the weirder phenomena of recent history.
On top of all that, he’s performing this death-by-boredom routine with Napoli! You remember Napoli a couple seasons ago, under Sarri? One of the most exciting teams to watch in Europe? Yeah, not so much anymore. It’s like he exorcised an unwelcome spirit and it rooted itself in the first club it found, which happened to be Atalanta. I can understand why both fans and board in Naples are getting restless and not just because they’re a distant outlier to the (for once) two teams currently on top of the league. But, even with the external saga of the players’ “revolt” against the directors, they probably won’t sack him when they beat Genk and get through to the knockout rounds in a couple weeks. And, of course, without the win tonight, we actually have to get a result (either a draw or a win) against Salzburg in a game that it would’ve been really nice to be able to do some squad rotation. Granted, the two EPL games bracketing that one are Bournemouth and Watford, so it’s quite likely that some squad rotation will be happening there. That said, it just brings pressure that one more goal tonight would’ve eliminated. Just like the last two years, we can never do things the easy way in the group stages. It always has to be dramatic. I think Carlo and I could both use a little less drama right now.
The stats don’t make it any better. Shots 15-4. On target 5-1. 72%(!) possession. 10-2 corners. This is a Champions League game against a major club, mind you. The stats would tell you this was us playing some relegation target. However, those other stats tell you that this may have been Lovren’s best game for the club in a couple years. As I mentioned after the Palace game, he’s really coming into his own right now in Matip’s absence. Credit to him for refusing to celebrate his equalizer, as well, sticking to business other than pointing to Milner for the assist. The latter, BTW, has 11 assists in the CL since 2017-18; more than any other player.
Brass tacks. A win or a draw against Red Bull Salzburg sends us through. We hold the first tiebreaker, which is points in head-to-head matches between teams. Of course, given the explosive nature of Salzburg’s offense, which was on full display at Anfield, that’s not an assumption that I think anyone’s prepared to make. That also considers the outcomes of recent defensive performances. Admittedly, criticism of the way we’re defending right now is kind of ridiculous. After all, we have two losses on the season in all competitions; one by penalties and the other by an impressive diving display. However, we also have only kept two clean sheets in 20 games, including one against League One side MK Dons. The counter-counter-argument is that only two of those games have seen us conceding more than one goal; the match against Salzburg (sigh…) and the insanity of the League Cup against Arsenal. So… I dunno. This may just be the macro manifestation of doing things the hard way, not just in the CL but overall. I noted last weekend that we all just kinda have to accept the way we’re continuing to win, so here we are.
Medical stuff. Salah and Robertson have been dealing with nagging injuries for some time now and both Shaqiri and Matip have been out for an extended period with their own issues. All of those are spots that can be capably covered to one degree or another. Tonight, Fabinho went down with a real issue in his ankle. He was already suspended for the Brighton game from yellow card accumulation, so he was taking a break this weekend, regardless. But the loss of the player who’s arguably the best DM in Europe right now is a real issue, especially given the upcoming game against Salzburg (sigh…) Now, like those other spots I mentioned, the six can be covered. Gini can play it (as he did tonight in excellent fashion), as can Hendo, and even Keita can do it, despite missing tonight’s game reportedly because of illness (sigh…) So, it’s not a disaster, but it’s still a real concern to lose our top guy with a game every three days for the next month.
Non-medical stuff. Trent’s performance against Palace wasn’t his best, so I think that Klopp decided to rotate him against Napoli and also give Gomez some minutes. That… did not go incredibly well. It’s clear that the latter is suffering from some confidence issues right now, whether from an inability to break back into the squad and/or other things. That showed up starkly in his play tonight. While he’s good enough to play RB, Gomez lacks the guile and precision that Trent has developed there. With the whole squad kind of churning through the mud, the game didn’t really get started until Gomez was swapped out for Ox with a little over a half hour left to play. From that point forward, the offense turned on like a switch had been flipped. It also helped that we moved from the 4-3-3 to the 4-2-3-1, with Ox wide on the right to give us more options as we moved into Napoli’s low block. That meant Hendo playing right back… at which he did better than Gomez did. So, yeah. Not sure what to think about young Joe right now.
Let the bodies hit the floor. The above is a pristine example of why strikers throughout the game choose to go down at the first hint of contact. If they don’t, they will never, ever get the call. That’s Koulibaly committing five fouls in the space of 1.5 seconds and no whistle to be heard. Salah gets criticized for diving only in the one of every three instances where he does take illegal contact in the box. The other two of three are where he actually powers through that contact, just as he did here, in the hopes that he’ll still be able to score. On top of that, how this wasn’t instantly flagged by VAR as something the official should walk to the sideline and look at is beyond me. After all, this is the Champions League, right? Not the deliberately incompetent Premier League.
I can’t remember the last time I was so aggravated from watching LFC. I really, really hate playing Carlo. (I discarded several far more profane titles for this piece.) Now that they’re likely to qualify by smashing Genk at the San Paulo, the prospect of facing them again in the knockout rounds is a dire one. Here’s hoping they get buried by Bayern and their Fantabulous Lewandowski Machine or something like that. Brighton times ahead.