It’s probably no surprise that I’m a pretty huge gaming nerd. After all, I write fairly regularly for a board game site. Some people find it odd that someone like that could also be a huge sports fan but, really, it’s just more games. The fact that I’m not actually playing in them makes no difference. My friend, Brian Cook, runs MGOBLOG. He’s also a gaming nerd, but knows more about football than most humans who aren’t actually employed by pro football organizations (and, believe me, major college programs are pro football organizations.) So, every time I use the word ‘stasis’, as in this missive’s title, all I can think about is when I was a hardcore Magic: The Gathering player. There was an enchantment called Stasis that basically prevented your opponent from playing the game, because all resources were kept in stasis as long as that card was on the table. It was extremely frustrating to them and tickled the sadistic, controlling nature of anyone playing blue/black at that time which, of course, was me, because I’m like that. Now the shoe is on the other foot, as all Liverpool fans (and, indeed, all football fans, in general) are the ones being frustrated as we sit and wait for the season to resume and the attendant celebration that we’ve all been waiting quite a long time for.
I sat on this one for a while (obvsly), since it was a combination of frustration and dread that accompanied last week’s loss to Atleti. On the one hand, there’s the irritation of getting knocked out of Europe’s elite competition by a side that 1) we’re superior to by some distance in most estimations and 2) a side that plays what Klopp, with some (but not complete) justification, calls “anti-football”. There’s also the frustration of suffering that knockout at Anfield. Despite the two straight finals and three straight group stage progressions, our record in CL road games hasn’t been stellar in the past three years. OTOH, the record at Anfield has been nearly immaculate. Most LFC fans had little doubt that, faced with the energy provided by the crowd on our home turf, Liverpool would prevail. Not so much this time.
In the last 11 days before the season was interrupted, we’d lost our unbeaten record in the Premier League, been knocked out of the FA Cup, were likewise out of the CL, and lost our unbeaten record at Anfield. That’s, uh, quite the come down from what some people had been looking at as a legendary season for a club that’s been around for 127 years. And it could still be legendary! We could still finish atop the English league with a record number of points and clinch the title with the fewest games played. But that “clinched the title soonest” label usually came with dates attached and now all of those dates are swept away for a far more ominous reason than a mid-season faltering of form.
The upside to that CL tie was that we were coming home to Anfield with the idea that the atmosphere provided by Merseyside would be the edge needed to get us over the hump of a 0-1 defeat in Madrid. The downside to that was that 3000 Athletico Madrid fans would be accompanying their team, as on most CL road fixtures, bringing with them the specter of COVID-19, which was then (and still is) most prevalent in Spain in that very same capital city. Shortly thereafter, all of our frustration with the recent path of our heretofore glorious season became moot, as we now wait for the season to resume after an interruption not seen since the 1940s, and with the awareness that a lot of people may not be there with us to celebrate (or try to ignore) the eventual victory. Thus, we are in stasis, waiting to move forward, not entirely sure of what things will look like when the game finally does proceed, and still hoping that most people remember the season for the brilliant football that we were playing and not for the shroud that currently hangs over it.
The game. Speaking of frustration… I was originally going to title this piece “4.07”, because that’s what our xG was in regulation time. I know that Caley/Opta shows 2.9 but that’s because we took an assload more shots in the extra time(!) and lowered our average. Even so, the total is still 3-1, a scoreline which wouldn’t have surprised me at all, based on the game, and which would have sent us through with a 3-2 aggregate. Those two massive, red blocks in the six-yard box are Bob and Robbo missing sitters, one to the left and one off the crossbar, respectively. Finishing has been a criticism this year, although I think it’s been somewhat overblown. But this game was a perfect example of what happens when your strategy works and you simply don’t take the chances that you create. As Michael Cox noted in The Athletic, the Oxlade-Chamberlain approach functioned exactly as it was supposed to, with Ox making deep runs while Trent dropped inside of him to disorient Madrid’s defense and allow room for Ox to operate on the right side.
That first goal from Gini came from exactly that: interplay between Trent and Ox, space created for Ox in the right corner that gave him time (and speed) to get to a ball, cross, Gini’s head, goal. For all those that demean Klopp as just a “man manager” and overlook his tactical acumen, this was a brilliant answer. For those asking why we don’t do this all the time against teams that try to pack it in against us, there are two answers: 1) We don’t need to, in most cases, as evidenced by our ability to win 27 of 29 games this season. 2) Ox doesn’t really have the stamina to do it for 60 games/season. Regardless, it worked really well here and with a little better finishing, we would have closed the game out in regulation and… been sitting here wondering how/when/if the CL was going to be completed like the eight sides that did make it through.
There is some criticism of Adrián that has become prevalent after this game and the FA Cup loss. I’m not interested. Yes, his mistake at Stamford Bridge essentially cost us the game… but so did some questionable finishing. Yes, his poor clearance that created the first (away) goal in this game led to the desperation that probably created the other two. But that’s not how we roll here. Adrián is a Red. YNWA means something. He played wonderfully for us in the first part of the season when Alisson was out injured and won us a UEFA Supercup. I’m not going to turn on the guy just because he had a couple off moments when called in because our #1 was out again. We knew what his skill level was when we signed him. That why he’s a backup. 4.07!
This game did serve to highlight some of the awkwardness with the “away goals” rule again, however. Due credit to Simeone, who announced that he felt it was unjust to Liverpool that his team received thirty extra minutes to score a decisive away goal, whereas Liverpool wasn’t given that advantage in Madrid. I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years. The rule does often make games more compelling that otherwise wouldn’t be, since one side is pushed to score more to make up for the disadvantage. But he’s right that it also creates an unusual burden on one side. What really bugs me about it is extra time(!) in the first place. As with most cup competitions, I’d be content just going straight to penalties or revisiting the “golden goal” rule, since said burden is only magnified on that team if they’re trying to redress a situation with fatigued players after having already completed 90 minutes.
Speaking of completion. The PL announced this morning, in true English fashion, that regardless of what UEFA says or wants, the English top division is going to finish this season, no matter how long it takes. UEFA announced a deadline of June 30th to do so. The FA dismissed that as so much frippery and said they would establish no deadline, even if it meant next season might be truncated as a consequence. With so much money riding on the Championship finishes and the question of relegation from the PL, the motivation is clear, even if most Reds fans would like to think it’s all about letting us actually win the trophy rather than handing it to us, as all but the most idiotic supporters of other clubs (Hi, Karren Brady!) have suggested.
Meanwhile, I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH. We’re all stuck waiting; not only for football but a good chunk of the rest of our lives. Some people have the luxury of working from home, which is great. But beyond that: PLEASE STAY HOME. I know you’re probably hearing this every five minutes, but there is no social engagement so important that you need to be putting yourself AND EVERYONE ELSE AROUND YOU at risk. The only way to deal with a situation like this is to essentially starve the virus of victims. Once it’s run its course, we move forward. Exacerbating the spread only perpetuates the problem and leaves the lucky ones waiting longer for life to return to normal. It leaves the unlucky ones without life, normal or otherwise. I will gladly number myself among the idiots for going to Magee’s for the Athletico game last week. We shouldn’t have been there in the same way that 3000 Madrid fans shouldn’t have been at Anfield. But what’s done is done and hopefully not too many are suffering the consequences, either in Detroit or on Merseyside. Let’s not make it any worse than the already dolorous waiting is.
Next time: Well, April 30th is the soonest “next time” can be. I’m going to try to continue here whenever an idea strikes me, but there’s only so much I can work with when there’s no… y’know… actual football. Maybe we play the Bitters in May? Here’s hoping.