At some point during the COVID-19-enforced break, I had decided that we were simply in a form of stasis. After all, that’s what I was talking about the last time I’d actually discussed game action, three months ago. Everything was simply frozen until the season picked up again and we arrived at the resolution that we and the rest of the Premier League have been waiting for since, oh, January or so. Today we had the emergence from that stasis and saw what was pretty much a continuation of the form that has seen us win only two of the previous seven matches in all competitions and with only one of those other five being a draw. That one today, in fact. In a Merseyside derby. So… yeah, that could’ve gone better. Are we panicking? Of course not. As Bayer Leverkusen was tweeting the other day to some impertinent City fans:
Now it’s a 23-point gap, but the song remains the same. It’s our title to win and all it will take is five more points to do it, no matter what anyone else in the league does. If we can grind out a win against Palace (RIP Kayla) on Wednesday at Anfield we could, in fact, win it against City at the Etihad on July 2. That would be… rich? Fitting? Rubbing it in just a tad? You could’ve said the same today if City had somehow choked it away against Arsenal last Wednesday (RIP David Luiz) and we had managed to secure our first top division title in 30 years at Goodison. But, well, then today’s game happened. Or didn’t, as you like.
In all honesty, given how things out in the world have gone over the last few months, in some ways I’m ready for it to just be over. Without the CL and with the English title so obviously sitting there, it seems more like we’re just waiting for the curtain to be drawn on this season so that we can start the next one. Is that from the weight of those external pressures (still-present plague, still-impending social revolution) that suddenly make football seem small? Or is it just the weight of those expectations after waiting thirty years- thirty years! -to get that 19th title and finally make James Pearce’s boyhood scarf outdated? Dunno. I wasn’t ready for the season to end in March and I’m still excited to see this team play right now, so I’ll be planted in front of every game (most of them at the reopened Magee’s!), win, lose, or draw like every time Liverpool Football Club takes the field. I was just hoping for something a bit more bloodrushing for the return to play. In a Merseyside derby.
Am I asking for too much? Probably. Despite being the best team in England and one of the best in Europe, this side does depend on having a certain degree of rhythm and that’s tough to resurrect after a three-month layoff and a fairly awkward “pre-season” where even training was somewhat stilted; to say nothing of the rest of life as we all struggle with new boundaries and precautions. This match also involved dealing with Carlo (sigh) and his obdurate 4-4-2 which will now be a regular presence in the EPL for however long he lasts at Goodison (or, y’know, whatever the new place is called, whenever it’s finished.) That’s almost never entertaining for anyone except those old-timey English types who think trainspotting is thrilling and football is offensive if there’s more than one goal in a match.
The game. Looked decent in the first half and then kind of like watching dump-and-chase hockey in the second. The Bitters slowed the game down, as Carlo is wont to do, and basically removed our engine (Bob) from the equation, which meant we did a lot of dumping into the mixer and did so without one of our key players in that respect: Robertson. After being told a day ago that everyone was ready to go for the first game, Robbo not only didn’t start but didn’t even make the bench. That put James Milner, Robot Warrior back into his cover role at left back (I know we’re not spending this summer but c’mon, guys, we could really use more depth there…) and he promptly went down with what will be known as The Bundesliga Problem (hamstring) for the rest of this plague-compressed season. Rhythm isn’t just about play on the field, as it also affects bodies. Running sprints and doing personal workouts without people to work against for three months will only get you so far.
In what was likely an effort to prevent that kind of thing, the gaffer not only made a sub at halftime, but used all five that FIFA had granted him before Everton made their first. If that was the most surprising thing to you about this match, you’re not the only one. What was mildly concerning was that Klopp later said the subs were scripted. Minamino being swapped out at the half for Ox was planned… except that Minamino was playing pretty well, just like he had against Blackburn. Was that plan to keep pressure off of Taki or to give Ox decent time? Does that mean he still doesn’t trust Taki’s stamina (bad) or he just wants Ox to be woven in (good)? Similarly, he said that most of the subs early in the second half were also planned… and one of those was Keita for Gini and Keita was probably the best player on the pitch for us today. It’s all well and good to make sure that we avoid injury but, as the saying goes, no plan survives contact with the enemy and if people are playing well, perhaps we want to maximize our chances to, y’know, win the game? Especially a Merseyside derby? There should be no argument that the first half was, by far, the better performance for our side, which means that the subs kind of let us down, whether individually or as a group. That could be an argument for depth issues (Gomez at left back, where he did fine, but not great; Ox at right wing) or it could just be that question of rhythm again (first game back after three months.)
Alisson, Fabinho, Virg, Matip, Mané, and O Captain, Our Captain all played well. Alisson, in fact, made a couple key stops on Everton’s two good looks and Hendo was probably the best passer of the day, aside from Keita. It’s also fair to say that Sadio was among our best players of the first half, if not the second. Ox, while decent, is simply not a front liner at this stage. He’s much better coming from the middle while drifting inside in the midfield, but that also means he doesn’t cover for whichever fullback he’s paired with, which is bad. I’m having trouble finding a good spot for him these days. Trent and Gini were a little less than, but no one had what you could call a poor game, except perhaps Lovren, who was repeatedly targeted and often successfully when he came on for Matip’s minor injury. Much as I like the guy and appreciate his efforts here for us, I think it’s time for the Best Defender in the World™ to find some other place to to be the best, because it’s often a distinct step down when he comes on, even while paired with VVD.
Transfers and so on. Another player where I think the argument of a distinct loss of ability is obvious is, again, Origi. Yes, I know he’s a cult hero amongst many of the supporters and I know he has ability. I’ve seen it, just like everyone has. But he’s also an obvious step down from Bob and is no replacement for Mané on the left. It’s moments like these that make the loss of Timo Werner to Chelsea that much more frustrating. It wouldn’t have helped today, since we wouldn’t have seen Werner until September, but these are the moments where we’d like to say: “Hey. Firmino has put in some serious miles for us. How about we switch out to someone who can totally play his role, while Mané and Salah are still in there on the left and right?” Origi is not that guy. I don’t think he ever will be. He brings his own style to the game, but that style is not our style, at this point in his and our development.
Will Brewster finally be that guy? He scored a brace inside of five minutes for Swansea the other day. Will Curtis Jones be the addition to the midfield that will allow Ox and/or Minamino to be regulars on the front line? Maybe and maybe. Those are likely the players we’ll have to depend on, given that spending this summer is going to be somewhere between “limited” and “nonexistent.” Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of the idiots that populate Football Twitter to the point that it’s basically a complete waste of time for anyone who’s a) conscious and b) conscientious. The abuse that our players, staff, and owners take there from so-called “Liverpool fans” is preposterous. This is a club that has won the CL last season, the Club World Cup this season, and will be winning the English title in the next few days. Suggesting that they’re somehow “killing our club” (yes, I’ve seen that phrase) is as dumb as suggesting that Trump is somehow helping this country.
If Klopp is as determined to build from within as he’s long said he is, then so be it. The man has gotten us this far. If the future is through the kids coming up through Melwood (now Kirkby), that’s not an outlandish position to take, given what we’ve seen in the cup competitions. Keep in mind that almost everyone else in Europe is going to be having the same spending issues that we’re having, since they’ve all taken revenue hits without supporters in the stands and with commercial sponsors looking for discounts because there aren’t supporters in the stands. The exception in the PL is Chelsea, because they were able to stockpile cash from the last window, where they were suspended, and from previous years of sales which was part of the behavior that got them suspended (UEFA!) But if they’re going to dump £50M on a forward while they still have the back line and midfield issues that they have… Well, good luck with that.
Alrighty, then. That’s 10 years without a loss in the derby. We’ll take that. Next up is The Hodgson and his less angry birds. Midweek games that aren’t Champions League. Woo! The novelty.