Apex predators, yo

The above presentation is essentially what happened on the field at Molineux today, with almost appropriate colors. (Credit to Redditor u/Apolik for the clip.) That’s Jimenez, Neto, and Traore closing in on the LFC back line. thinking they’ve got easy prey in sight. Instead, with some deft touches by the everpresent Virgil Van Dijk and the best keeper in the Premier League, Alisson Becker, we took a bite out of them when they were closest and skittered away with all three points. In that respect, it’s worth asking who is the real apex predator: the one that looks like it or the one that wins in the end?

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I feel pretty safe in saying that Wolves are the most difficult opponent we’ve faced in the league this season, both at their place and at Anfield. In both cases, we won the game by the narrowest of margins (No clean sheet? No problem! We’re back to our answer to life, the universe, and everything.) And, credit to them and their supporters, it’s a completely different level at Molineux. That was easily the loudest crowd I’ve heard outside of Anfield this season. They were ready for this game because they know that their team is good and would be in the running for top 4 spots already, if not for a rocky start trying to absorb Europa League games with the regular schedule. They have great players. They have an extraordinary relationship with a big-time agent. They have enormous financial backing. They’re a contender. Anyone thinking otherwise is deluding themselves.

That said, it was pointed out during the game that, when it came to systematic passing and general possession, Liverpool was easily the more controlled and confident team. I would hope so, given that we have a group of players who have now been playing together for some time under the best manager in the world. I can see Wolverhampton getting to that level, but they’re not there yet. That said, in the second half, they took the game to us and, after they tied it, kept throwing punches at pretty much the same rate we were. It’s easy to look at the xG numbers provided by Opta/Staley and think that LFC did what that fox up there did, which is get away in one piece. But there were a number of other half-chances that didn’t materialize that easily could have on another day. This tweet highlights that control in tight games:

Looked at another way: Liverpool is 11-0 in one-goal games this season. Every other team in the league has at least three one-goal losses. Make no mistake: this team, this club, is forging this path. They’re not stumbling into it.

The game. The one major downside of all of this celebration is the loss of Mané. Klopp says it’s a hamstring injury, which is bad. But he walked off without an obvious limp, which is good. It’s an injury to one of our best players, which is bad. But we have guys who can fill that spot (Minamino, Origi, Shaq), which is good. The key thing here isn’t the goalscoring. It’s Mané’s consistency at tracking back and playing defense. Origi has gotten a lot better at that. If he can maintain it, then we’re good to go.

Speaking of Minamino, he did OK for his impromptu Premier League debut. He disappeared for long stretches of it, but this was a hell of an opponent to be dropped in on. I was expecting him to make an appearance against the far less threatening Hammers. On top of being an emergency sub, Klopp also mentioned that Takumi felt a twinge in his calf within the first couple minutes of being on the field. Since he was able to play through it, it was likely just a cramp, but he was getting treatment at halftime and that’s part of why Klopp shifted him to the recycler role and moved Ox forward in the second half. That also led to a rapid shifting of formations that the commentators were trying to figure out. They thought that LFC shifted to a 4-4-1-1 at one point, but I think that was a misread of a shift to the 4-2-3-1, given Bob’s tendency to still move around a lot. It remained that way when Fabinho came on for Ox.

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It’s interesting to note the differences between Henderson and Fabinho at the 6. The latter is still a bit rusty, but the contrast in passing style is one of those quirky things. Henderson’s approach is a bit more dynamic, given his natural position being at the 8. He’s eager to beat the other team’s forward movement and pass forward(!) aggressively when he receives the ball ahead of the back line. Fabinho, OTOH, isn’t as eager to deliver long balls, but instead is calmer and seemingly more analytical. The captain’s passes are often the right ones, especially when it involves retaining possession and/or triggering an attack. But Fábio Henrique Tavares’ are often about finding the perfect spot in the middle of the field to deliver the ball. They’re both effective, but in different ways. Henderson once again had a spectacular game, completing 80% of his passes, making three tackles and an interception, creating two chances, making the assist to Bob, and getting a goal of his own. That corner routine was apparently, once again, something they’d worked on in practice this week, since he normally contains on set pieces, but they decided to rush him from the back as a surprise move and it worked.

Speaking of training. For as much credit as can be extended to Wolves for their intensity, I have to point out the ridiculous shape that our players are in. It was in the 92nd minute when Gini was pressing all over the left corner of Wolves’ half, making it difficult for Patricio to get the ball forward. He was sprinting like you normally see at the start of game… in the 92nd minute! That conditioning extends to the mental part of the game, too, as Hendo was pointing out in the post-game interview. The boss says that the most important game on the schedule is the next one and that’s the way they’ve been treating all of them this season. Just as importantly, they’ve been refusing to be beaten in any of them, no matter what the score is or how many minutes are left. That’s coaching, man.

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The one exception to that on the physical end tonight was Robertson, who had a bit of a rough game. It’s true that he was going head-to-head with Traore, who is one of the more threatening offensive players in the EPL these days (you can tell when you could hear Molineux shriek in anticipation every time he touched the ball), but you could see signs of fatigue in Robertson’s game. He was out of position a couple times and his passes didn’t quite have the edge to them that we normally expect. The problem is that, with Milner still out, we don’t have a viable backup for him other than Larouci or Neco Williams playing on the wrong side (the latter was on the bench tonight.) I expect to see both of them against the Fightin’ Kates on Sunday, which can only help with Larouci’s development. Oh, and to end on a high note:

Yeah. I feel bad for Matip but… yeah. (And, no, I’m not bringing up potential ‘issues’ with Salah’s shooting/passing choices. He’s still one of the best forwards in the league. I don’t go in for manufactured controversy.)

Random numbers stuff.

  • 10 LFC players have hit double digit assists since the advent of the Premier League. Trent is the first one to do it twice (12 last year; 10 (so far) this year.) He’s also the only player in the league to do it for both of the last two seasons.
  • Reporters are now approaching Klopp, suggesting that we could lose six games and still win the league. His response: “I hear that and I want to vomit.”
  • The so-called “magic number” is down to 9; meaning if we win 9 games, we win the league. That ninth game, of course, is at the Etihad. It would also tie us with Arsenal’s record of 49 games undefeated.

So, next is the FA Cup fourth round game against Shrewsbury Town in the 9875-seat New Meadow. It will be entertaining to see how many of the locals decided to cash in to the oncoming red hordes. I expect almost a full roster swap from today, although it would be great if Minamino could be leading the attack. Beyond that, it’s a trip to Moyesneyland and the woeful Hammers.

 

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