With the release of the latest Root expansion, it’s an opportune time to take a look at some of the faction differences on a competitive level. The Marquise is still the most widespread (defined as “Reach” in the new Law), but with the introduction of the Duchy, there arises the potential for truly edge-to-edge combat that-
Um… That’s not about the game.
What are you talking about? It is about the game.
<sigh> It’s not about THE game.
<blink> What-! Ohhhhhhh! The Game!
Well, it’s not really a recent film or one of his best efforts, but I’m a huge David Fincher fan and The Game is worthwhile for its reference to class distinctions (how everyone is just a wage slave in a rich man’s dream, even if it’s a nightmare), as well as its… What?
Not that game, either.
Wait… You want me to talk about that farce in Madrid? Really? I mean, I guess I can…
So, look, that was about as close to an officiating disaster as I’ve seen in quite some time. It was bad enough that, of all people, Sadio Mané(!) got substituted at halftime(!) by Jürgen Klopp(!) to make sure that he didn’t get a second yellow when the ref failed to see that Atleti were flopping again. Premier League teams will always encounter some of this in Europe, since EPL officials are a bit more lenient when it comes to what constitutes a foul. The pace of the game in England is both faster and more bruising than it is in most of the other majors. Continental fans will often protest that their teams are trying to actually play football and they’re not often wrong in that respect, given that Burnley is still an EPL team as of this writing. What makes it even more annoying is that Liverpool plays like most of those European squads and has been successful at it (least penalized team in the EPL, three or four years running) both on and off the continent. So, yeah, we get it. Football IS a contact sport, but it’s not rugby. That’s why the balls are different.
That said, the officiating tonight was righteously bad. The most hilarious moment was this one:
That’s a great Todd Cantwell impression that Renan Lodi was giving there, except better because Salah didn’t make contact with him at all and he still went down like someone just pinged him with a bolt-action Centerfire. (And, yes, credit my impeccable timing with jumping all over Cantwell the week he appears in the transfer rumors as a Liverpool target. I don’t care. Stand up and play the game.) This is the kind of absurdity that we were dealing with all night and which ended up getting Klopp carded for tearing into the fourth official. You always know what he’s thinking when he immediately waves away a question that’s going to lead to a bit too much of a tirade and possibly get the club fined.
All of that said, Liverpool lost the game because they ended up in the perfect set of circumstances for Diego Simeone and the club that he has led, very successfully, for nine years. Somehow, in this situation:
the Reds gave up a sloppy goal. Go ahead and count: That’s nine guys in and around the six-yard box to Atleti’s four. Why did they only have four? Because, as you can see from the ring surrounding the 18-yard box, they were terrified of Liverpool doing what they usually do, which is score on the counter of the opponent’s corner kick. That’s Simeone’s mentality, through and through; defense first, second, third, and maybe fourth. Oh, and then if we can score, great!
We let in a bad one and then proceeded to go through the training exercise that we encounter with the majority of EPL sides that we play: dominating possession (75%), circling the ball around the perimeter, occasionally getting good looks, often getting frustrated/bored. Most of the time, that still ends up with goals for us and then the opponent actually has to come out and play again. Whether Atleti would have done that is open to question, because Simeone. This time, we didn’t even get a shot on goal for the first time this season. THAT’S what Atleti do. It’s not about offensive failures on LFC’s part. It’s not about poor finishing. It’s not about a “lack of creativity”, FFS (I may have to be physically restrained the next time someone suggests that in my presence.) It’s about Atleti doing something that they’ve done, very well, for almost a decade and a team that, even minus some of its bigger stars of recent years, is built to do exactly that. Just to drive home that point on the Reds’ end: In the last 10 games (excepting the FA Cup junior squad adventures), Liverpool has 20 goals. That’s, uh, 2/game, on average, which is pretty solid for most clubs, but especially one that is constantly facing opposition trying to do exactly what Atleti did tonight.
All of THAT said… Liverpool certainly didn’t play at the top of their game. Atleti rushed us in the first five minutes, got their goal, and then bunkered in. We came out in kind of a tentative fashion that just played into their hands, initially, and then were forced to play into them for the other 85 minutes. Most teams get tired of defending that long. Most teams are not Athletico Madrid. Virg had what qualifies for him as an off night in those first few minutes, spraying a couple balls wide and generally not in control. We were visibly outmanned in the middle third, as Atleti was playing their typical 4-4-2 and, once they had the lead, were even less likely to come forward, making it more of a 4-6. They were staying as wide as possible to try to press Trent and Robbo/Mané as often as possible, but still keeping the space between their two lines as compact as possible. Possibilities abounded, except on offense. But that’s what opened spaces in the channels for Trent early on, as he cut in to launch a couple balls in Oblak’s general direction (somewhere around row 18 in that end of the stadium.)
I think it’s likely that, given that wide approach, we may have been better served by having Keita on the field, instead of Gini, since Naby thrives in the channels and is capable of making those line-breaking passes that even steady defenders often have trouble dealing with. But Klopp is cagey in big road games and that may have played into his decision to go with what most people think of as the “starting XI”, even if this is the first time we’ve been able to play with that lineup this season. (He also noted later that Naby hasn’t had enough game time recently to be in top form.) Keita is the kind of adjustment I would hope that Klopp would make at halftime, when his hand isn’t forced by us having to play 11 vs 12. Just our luck. When I heard that Origi was coming on, my first thought was that he was swapping Gini for Divock and moving right to the 4-2-3-1, since we’d be able to use the spread forwards AND the fullbacks to try to outnumber them in the wide spaces or have a constantly forward man (Salah) to try to make them more narrow in the box. But he was worried about losing Mané for the second leg, so, there it is.
There were a couple decent performances in the midst of the grind. Gomez won 7/11 aerial duels, which was the most in the game. And Bob was Bob in the packed house that was the middle of the field, creating two chances and succeeding on 3 of 5 dribbles to try to keep the ball alive and moving forward. But there wasn’t much else to be done.
On Origi. Look, I know the kid can play. You look at those moments like the second goal against Everton and it’s obvious that he has talent. He had a couple moments like that tonight, where he maneuvered the ball out of the corner or past a couple defenders. But those are just that: moments. He’s simply not Mané. Or Firmino. Or Salah. And the drop is significant. If pressed to make a choice of whom should replace any of the front three, I’d pick Shaqiri or Ox or Minamino, in that order. Unfortunately, the Cube is still unavailable and Ox did come on, but for Salah (after which, we had our best chance of the game!), and Minamino simply hasn’t earned the manager’s trust for big games just yet. At this point, the dropoff in what we do and how we do it is significant when Origi comes on. It may always be significant. It’s probably why we’re still trying to sign guys like Timo Werner. If he could just have more of an impact when he comes on (similar to Ox), I’d start to change my mind. But, right now, that substitution meant bad things to me, strategy-wise. There wasn’t much else for Klopp to do, either (as opposed to the idiot panic squad on Twitter, convinced that a 1-0 loss means that the entire side is about to implode. I may be signing off football Twitter for a while.)
Anyway, fine, whatever. That was aggravating. Time to take out some of that aggravation on the Hammers on Monday, I guess (Sorry, Jamo.) We don’t see Simeone and Co. for three weeks, at which point, to quote the boss: “Our people will be ready. Welcome to Anfield.”
[BTW, in the remote possible universe that some of you are interested, I write about that first topic here: ThereWillBe.Games and that second topic here: Dichotomous Purity. Stop by and take a look, if you like.]