There’s a nice metaphor in here if we’d actually won the game. Something something, elk hunting. something something. Of course, that would also be more appropriate if anyone referred to Watford as “The Elks”, instead of “The Hornets.” They were thisclose to changing their badge to something that reflected their modern nickname. I suppose that might’ve invited too many metaphors about bug repellents or something like that, but it was probably just typical English stodginess and addiction to “tradition.” Instead, the echoes of gunfire were Arsenal fans still celebrating the last real note of significance they have in the modern era, which is being the last team to have gone through the entire top division (aka “The Premier League”) season undefeated. (The only other team to have done it is Preston North End in the English Football League’s first year of existence.)
It was kind of odd to see the leaders (aka us) of said Premier League undone so routinely. It’s an experience that none of us have had for two-and-a-half seasons; going back to the 4-1 hammering we took from Spurs in 2017. Since then, we haven’t lost a game by more than 1 goal and certainly haven’t lost a game to a side we’d normally consider vastly inferior to the European champions, league leaders, etc. But, y’know, football is like that sometimes. You’d like to think that this takes some of the pressure off of the EPL season, since the “Invincibles” title is out of reach and there’s no longer as much concern tied to one of the two domestic competitions. LFC needs 12 more points to lock it up.
But, then, there’s not that much concern about the other domestic competition (the FA Cup) because no one really cares about it anymore, except as a hunk of hardware. And, truth be told, if you’ve watched the team this season, there hasn’t been a huge amount of stress or tension attached to most of the games since December. They just did what they were supposed to do on the pitch and the wins happened. It wasn’t about staying ahead of anyone or measuring our position against what the other contenders might do, because there really haven’t been any other contenders for some time. We’re going to win the league. Coming out on the pitch against another EPL opponent this season just meant executing the tactics that Klopp has instilled in the side since kickoff in August. But, now that the magical, undefeated season is gone, it’s fair to suggest that the FA Cup might’ve regained a bit of its magic, if we’re looking for silver linings. If we’re not going to do the Invincibles thing, we might as well try to get the treble, which is also among the few records that Liverpool hasn’t been able to achieve in its long history. So, instead of an afterthought with the kids, suddenly Tuesday is “a thing.” OK, then. This group hasn’t looked like the machine they were prior to the winter break since they returned from it. Maybe this will be enough to kickstart that engine again.
And, oh, hey! We’re 22 points clear on the last day of February. I can’t really get into too much of a twist about this.
The game was fairly emblematic of a side that wasn’t taking it too seriously (Liverpool) and a side that was in 19th place and desperate to avoid relegation (Watford.) They played like their careers depended on it (which may be true in some cases) and we played… not like that. The above may be the worst gap in xG since Klopp arrived at LFC (feel free to stat check me; I’m not really that interested.) I’m not sure if that was the worst performance this season for every player on our side, but it was pretty close. Nothing seemed to work and it really wasn’t a case of this player being out (Henderson) or that player not being available (Keita had a small injury; wave your hand if you’re surprised.) It was just one of those days where nothing was working on either end of the pitch.
It has to be said that one of the players who seems to show up well in the stats analysis is (surprise!) Virgil, who won all of his aerials and completed 90% of his passes. However, just looking at the game with the naked eye saw Virg get caught flat-footed on two of those goals, as Ismaila Sarr is quite fast. It’s all well and good to say he managed a key pass (according to one analysis), but when it was only one because there weren’t many targets for him to pass to and he was still caught out like the rest of the back line was… The compounding concern I have with the Gini/Fab/Ox midfield is that 1/3 of that is VERY intent on attacking and the other 2/3 are more concerned with recycling. That leads to an imbalance in the middle of the field which showed up regularly when Deulofeu was rampaging down the left side on a regular basis. Lee Dixon was consistently pointing out that Trent was having “trouble” with him, but not focusing on the fact that, with Trent playing so high up the field as he always does, part of the problem was that he often had no cover, because Ox likes to cut inside, while Hendo (for example) will often stay outside. However, none of those ventures by Deulofeu turned into goals before his unfortunate (and awful-looking) injury, so I don’t think anyone really deserves a scapegoating, but, of course…
The fingers, they are being pointed. Dejan Lovren is part of our club. I’m not going to crucify the guy because people are looking at his inability to keep pace with Sarr and that contributing to the loss. Not pointing fingers is what YNWA means. If you’ll look at that xG comparison up there, having one shot on target the whole night also contributes a healthy amount toward the inability to win games, but no one is ready to tar-and-feather anyone on the front line. This isn’t a case of “this one guy blew a hole in our zeppelin and there was the burning and the wailing and the crashing.” This was a comprehensive loss, with perhaps Alisson being the only member of the team not contributing to it. Everyone was losing passes. Everyone was out of sync with their teammates. I was pointing out to the Liverpool Offside during the match that it feels like Fabinho hasn’t really been in sync with the rest of the side since he got back from his injury. That’s understandable, at first, but I didn’t really expect it to take this long.
But, yes, if you look at our collection of four CBs, you’d likely think that Lovren is at the bottom of the list and question why he was playing over Matip; not least because Lovren tends to play better when he’s confident. When he’s not confident, things tend to go awry. After that first goal, they started to go awry. The counterpoint, of course, is this: Why the hell were we chasing a game against the 19th-placed team in the league? Again: That’s football, sometimes. Who the hell knows? It just didn’t work. But it’s absolutely unfair to lay all of the blame at one player’s feet. Did Lovren play well? No. But pretty much no one else did, either.
I mean, if you look at it, maybe we set another record? How many times does a team with 71% possession end up with a 0.2 xG and lose 3-0? That’s gotta be carrying some kind of infamy, right? If we’re not memorable for one reason… Now all I’m thinking about is having read a Watford forum before last year’s second game with them when they were getting themselves all charged up about how they could go toe-to-toe with us and- yeah! -even win the game over a title contender! We, of course, won 5-0. They were just a year too early… Football.
Up next is the FA Cup 5th round tie with what is likely a very different squad heading to Chelsea on Tuesday than Klopp was originally intending. Next weekend, the ‘Mouthies come to Anfield before the other mouthies (Atleti) follow suit. Suck it up. If anyone tries to give you grief, just say: “22 points.”