One of my favorite trivia questions is about the fortress/palace in Spain known as Alhambra. It’s located on top of Roman fortifications from the 2nd century BC, after they took the territory known then as Hispania from the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars. But the palace was built by the Emir of Granada in the 14th century CE, as one of the last symbols of power of the Moorish presence in Spain before the Reconquista was completed. Ferdinand and Isabella later used it as their royal court, as a symbol of that transition from Islam to Christianity. The name is based on the Arabic phrase “al hamra“, which means “the red one” because of the reddish tint to the clay and sandstone in the area, some of which was used in its construction. Given the football club most of us are fans of here, it should come as no surprise why something literally named “the red one” would stick out to me in an historical sense. But there’s an adjoining bit of symbology now present with that club.
It’s no secret that I’ve been a bit mystified at the drive by LFC to acquire the services of one Thiago Alcântara. It’s not as if I think it’s a bad purchase. Far from it. He’s clearly an amazing player who can contribute quite a bit to the success of the club. He proved that again today, coming on in the second half for the injured Jordan Henderson and promptly setting the Premier League record for completed passes in a single half (75; 17 more than any Chelsea player completed in the entire match.) But he’s also 29 and came from the current pinnacle of the European game, with Bayern Munich having completed a treble. From one perspective, it’s a high compliment to want to depart the German and European champions for Liverpool. From a different perspective, it’s questionable why either Michael Edwards or Jürgen Klopp would want to spend that many millions on someone who doesn’t need Klopp’s developmental touch and won’t be accruing any more value as he nears the end of his contract at the age of 33.
But at the end of Thiago’s contract will also be the end of Klopp’s contract with the club. One of the latter’s stated intentions in signing an extension was to build a foundation of both success and development for the next manager to come along. To do so, you need not only the young guns who will be the stars of tomorrow (or are already becoming those stars), but also the older players to guide them along and ensure that what the coach instills in training is implemented on the pitch in matches. With James Milner, Robot Warrior, reaching the twilight of his lengthy career, it’s not unwise to acquire another couple players like Milner, who can lead by example and with a lengthy history of personal success to back that up. Thiago Alcântara is one such player. The bonus is that not only is he a potential stalwart like Millie, but he’s also still skilled enough to change and expand the way our midfield functions right now. I’m sure I’m not the only LFC fan imagining Thiago in a double pivot alongside Fabinho and the possibilities that could unlock.
From that angle, the transfer makes much more sense and segues perfectly back into the discussion of nomenclature. You see, “Alcântara” is derived from the Arabic “al qantara“, meaning “the bridge.” I think that’s what the gaffer’s intent is and, if today is any indication, Thiago has made the first crossing in some style. (It also doesn’t hurt that he made his Liverpool debut at the most appropriately named venue.)
Chelsea 0 – 2 Liverpool
Now, there are some caveats to today’s game. The first is that we played the entire second half a man up. The second is that Chelsea have spent a quarter billion pounds this summer buying attackers, leaving blocks of granite like Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen to protect the world’s most expensive goalkeeper from being bombarded by (checks notes) 18 shots, 6 on target. Abramovich always said he wanted “exciting football” and that’s what he seems determined to get; albeit, going both ways. The third is that the world’s most expensive goalkeeper is in the midst of a major crisis of confidence… but, yeah, those last two are not our problem. In the same way you can assess championship seasons by saying that you only beat the teams that are put in front of you, you have to also state that you dance with whut brung ya. We lost our captain (O Captain) to what Jürgen says is a minor thigh problem and replaced him with Thiago Alcântara. They have Kepa. [shrug] Whattaya gonna do? On top of that, we pretty much had the Chelsea end under siege for most of the first half when they were still on even terms. So, the breakthrough was going to come at some point. The fact that it came after Christensen participated in the best use of VAR the PL has yet seen is, again, not our problem. (Call is questionable. Official checks monitor. Changes call. It’s almost like… a logical system or something. Weird.) What I’m trying to understand is why Frank Lampard thought that the best way to deal with a pressing side was to play on the counter but also insist that Kepa play the ball out from the back… Also, even with 11 men, I kinda doubt the Blues were going to be in a good position to stop this:
That’s the front three highlighted in every way: the penetrating movement, the inherent knowledge of each others’ motion and tendencies, the danger on the ground and in the air (Mané’s brilliant turn of the head to take the ball away from Kepa is a highlight of this highlight.) They’re the best front line in football, full stop, as I’ve said before and will continue to say. It was simply the pinnacle of an overall impressive day for Sadio, as well:
Two goals will almost always get you man-of-the-match honors, especially on a day where you pass Cristiano Ronaldo’s PL goal tally (86 to 84) in the same number of games (196), but I actually think the vote should’ve gone another way:
I was leery of Fabinho stepping in as a CB again, not because I doubt his quality or his ability to do the job. We know he can. It was just another point of emphasis on the fact that we’ve spent millions on an area not necessarily of need, while we still only have three senior centerbacks, after the departure of the Best Defender in the World™. But perhaps here is the genius of Klopp and Edwards at work again. Bringing in Thiago gives us yet another player who can shine at the 6 (in addition to Hendo and Gini Wijnaldum), while perhaps moving Fabinho into the regular rotation at CB, which gives him minutes while also getting more of a rotation at that DM spot so that everyone gets some game time and a chance to demonstrate their Dutch Total Football worthiness. Incidentally, those 4 tackles by Fab were all on Werner and he added 4 interceptions and 12 recoveries to go with them. Beast mode.
- Jürgen has set a record for the fewest games needed to reach 400 league points as manager of LFC; 13 fewer than The King.
- With 11 corners today to Chelsea’s 1, we now have a 20:1 ratio for the season, which is kind of insane, given that our two games have come against what appears to be a solid mid-table side and another contender for the top 4.
- That was Alisson Becker’s first penalty save for Liverpool (I know I mentioned it as his one weak point; I wasn’t kidding) and was Jorginho’s first miss for Chelsea.
- Christensen is the first Chelsea player to be sent off in a league match against Liverpool since… Frank Lampard in 2009. Symmetry.
Alright. Enough singing Chelsea the blues (“You ain’t got no his-to-ry!”) Next up is Lincoln City in the Why Is This Still Being Played Cup, followed by welcoming the new-look Gooners to Anfield. We’re hoping for a more reasonable finish than the last two times we’ve run into Mikel Arteta’s Man City South. Also, this was probably my favorite moment of today’s match, outside of the brilliant goal noted above:
I think I yelled: “Go get me a beer!” at that.