I’ve long been fascinated by quantum mechanics; not least because it’s a scientific expression of various philosophical perspectives that things only exist or exist in the way they do because we experience them (solipsism, et al.) In footballing terms, you can ride that out to questioning whether football matters without fans in the stadium to create the full experience (and, certainly, it’s not too far a leap from thinking about whether falling trees make sounds if no one is present to hear them to thinking about the various blocks of wood that make up most of football Twitter…) But one of the more interesting aspects of quantum theory is one that originated with thinking about how light functions: Is it a wave or is it a particle? Quantum theory says: “Both!” That’s kind of what I was feeling yesterday after the day’s events surrounding our club.
On the one hand, we ended up with a really interesting and fortunate draw in the Champions League. We haven’t played Ajax since 1966, when they bested Bill Shankly’s Reds over two legs in the knockout stages. As one of the other “permanent” trophy holders (for winning three straight European Cups in the early 70s), it’s always cool to get a match in against what remains Euro football royalty, despite their “lesser” status in recent years. We also get to play a double with Atalanta, the most notable insurgent of Serie A in the last few seasons. They play all offense, all the time, so the games should at least be really exciting; similar to the matches with RB Salzburg last season. And then there’s first-timers Midtjylland, whose manager, Brian Priske, had a wry assessment of his club’s status in the strata of UEFA when asked what the club planned to do with the qualification money: “I’ve been promised a fence around our training ground so we don’t have to be chasing all these fucking balls!” The fortunate aspect to the whole draw is that the travel times will be extremely short: Denmark, the Netherlands, and northern Italy. No trips to Ukraine or Istanbul in our packed schedule, which is a good thing for the squad, albeit alongside events that just lightened our fixture load a bit…
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I mildly detest the WITSBP cup. There’s really no reason for a second domestic cup in any nation (France did away with theirs last season) except that it makes money. Many fans of smaller clubs will say that it gives them something to achieve in the season when there’s no chance of achieving anything else. Yeah? Tell it to Leicester. You want the “small club” trophy so you can point to something on the mantel? The Foxes can still point to a league title. Try harder. Besides, even that argument is put to the sword by recent trends. In the last 20 League Cup finals, only 4 teams have won that weren’t part of the “Big Six”: Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Swansea, and Birmingham. It’s an afterthought with one slightly positive upside: it gives playing time for backbenchers and prospects that won’t normally see the pitch for those big clubs. That is a significant upside, especially when you have a club that is in enough competitions to need experienced depth, like ours. But that’s not enough to explain how frustrated I was to be losing on penalties (Again!) to Arsenal yesterday in a competition that I hold in a certain degree of contempt.
The fact of the matter is the most obvious: Whether light is a particle or wave, its obvious manifestation (i.e. light) remains the same to casual observers. Similarly, even if we’re playing in a tournament that I don’t really care about, I still want Liverpool to win every game they play. I especially would like them to win against traditional rivals. I especially especially would like them to win against a side that we significantly overmatch, even with our backups, and in a game where the xG comparison is in our favor (1.83 to .23) by a factor of almost 9. But football is not a wave. It doesn’t travel in just one direction. In visible terms and in terms of probability, it’s a lot closer to a bunch of particles; men and the ball bouncing around in random but still coherent patterns that sometimes turn out “right” and sometimes don’t. Similarly, my interest in what the club does is a wave. It’s constant, even when they’re participating in a contest that I’d rather see go the way of the Cup Winners’ Cup. The popular image of a wave is one with ups and downs, peaks and valleys. That’s kind of what we got yesterday. This has been today’s quantum physics lesson somehow duplicating the way life turns out. It’s when we get into attempting to model English football with superstring theory that things really get exotic…
Liverpool 0 (4) – 0 (5) Arsenal
Like the game against the Imps(!), there’s not a ton to say about this game that isn’t directly oriented around players. On Arsenal’s side, that one player is Bernd Leno, who absolutely earned his weekly envelope by keeping them in this game and then making two saves in the shootout. Similarly, our backup keeper, Adrián, also made a couple great saves and, similarly, got a save in the shootout. I applied the emphasis because of the criticism that seems to dog our backup keeper for not being as good as Alisson, our starting keeper. We got him on a free. He didn’t lose a game last year in the PL and made another save in a shootout during the SuperCup. He’s the best second-string keeper in the league not named Dean Henderson.
As for the outfield players, I really have to point out the two Williamses. As seen in the stats above, Neco acquitted himself well (which, of course, won’t stop the so-called LFC supporters on football Twitter from being their two-faced selves.) He doesn’t quite have the passing panache of Trent Alexander-Arnold, but pretty much no other right back in the world has that. And that’s why Neco is the backup right back. Similarly, Rhys Williams looked confident and in control against Lincoln. Against Arsenal, he looked great. As noted before, I think Klopp’s plan was to have a rotation of four CBs that includes Fabinho, since we have solid depth at DM. But I think part of his decision to not pick up another senior center half was because he knew that he had guys like Rhys and perhaps Billy Koumetio to cover where needed. The former was still confident on the ball, but also displayed a deft touch in passing, including the long passes for which our regular starters (Virgil and Joe Gomez) have become notorious. I was impressed.
On the slightly less thrilling side, despite remaining solid at the DM spot, you could tell there were moments when trying to execute our offensive game plan became a little overwhelming for Marko Grujic. I no longer think it’s a lack of talent. I just think it’s a lack of game time. Likewise, Takumi Minamino is present in the Roberto Firmino role, but he’s still not Bob. He’s often electric going forward, which is great, but facilitating through the middle of the pitch is still not quite there. Knowing what we know of Arsenal’s midfield, I would’ve expected a little more action from him in the middle third. However, the counterpoint to that is that Mikel Arteta actually made the right choice to start Dani Ceballos in this game, which definitely make Taki’s job a little more difficult. Also, speaking of electric going forward, it was encouraging to see Diogo Jota carry right on doing the same kind of attacking disruption he was providing against the Gunners on Monday. I was a little perturbed to see him be the replacement for Gini’s arrival, but I understood once he came on the pitch and Harry Wilson just moved up and we started playing the 4-2-3-1. Just to highlight the effectiveness of that change, half of our real chances came after Gini’s arrival.
Hopefully, we’ll see more of the kids against Midtjylland and PL teams that shouldn’t really be there, like Fulham (shots fired), until the FA Cup starts in January.
More on the draw. As noted, we got a pretty good deal out of the group stage draw this year. Other groups were kind of a mixed bag:
- Group A has at least one majorly intriguing matchup in Bayern and Atleti. Salzburg could be a trouble spot for either of them, but would’ve been a lot moreso with Taki and Haaland still there. Those two should have little trouble moving on.
- Group B is dripping in European Cup history, between Madrid, Inter, and Gladbach, plus near-constant group stage presence Shakhtar. There’s some serious miles to travel in that grouping, as well. While Gladbach could be a dark horse (diamond?), depending on how Inter is doing, the safe money is still on I Nerazzurri and Los Blancos.
- Group C is for City and their casual stroll to the knockout rounds. Again. Yeah, yeah. They had some rough roads a decade ago but, seriously. The last five years have seen them sleepwalking their way into the 16. As for the second club? Toss-up, yo. Porto seems right, but the other two clubs are no pushovers (unless you’re City.)
- Group E seems like a similar situation to Chelsea’s group last year. It’s a weird pile of teams that could turn out in odd ways. Chelsea seems like the favorite, but Sevilla is Sevilla… which may mean they’re destined to fall short, drop to Europa, and win it again. Dunno.
- Group F is for fascist and Dortmund’s odd tour to some of the less racially-hospitable grounds of Europe and then a cup of coffee in a 16th-century town in Belgium. (Remember: the town is Bruges (pronounced ‘brooj’) while the club is Brugge (pronounced ‘broog-eh’.)) On the face of it, Dortmund and Lazio should win this one.
- Group G is the drama group, as it will be the first meeting between Messi and Ronaldo in the CL (assuming that both play) since 2011(!) Barca v Juventus is one of the tastier matchups of the group stage and those two should walk away with this group.
- Finally, H is for hilarious; as in, “It’s hilarious that ManU got stuck with defending finalists PSG, a threatening other team in Leipzig, and a trip to Istanbul.” Sorry ’bout yer luck. Obviously, PSG is the winner here, but I’m not entirely certain between the Mancs and the Energy Drinks. Maybe it depends if Ole is still around?
The continued wizardry of Michael Edwards. We’ve already talked briefly about the value insanity that is Michael Edwards’ normal day on the job. You can hearken back to moments like him robbing Bournemouth blind twice (€18m for Jordon Ibe; €19m for Dominic Solanke.) Today he pulled off another of those magic tricks by getting €26m from Sheffield United for Rhian Brewster that includes a buyback option for three years and a 15% sell-on share. The sale of Ki-Jana Hoever to Wolverhampton had already lessened the sting of Diogo Jota’s significant fee, but this almost obviates it. Sheffield had trouble scoring last year and they’ve played their first three league matches this year without a goal, so they were ready to pony up and Edwards got a great deal out of it. Not only is it a big chunk of cash for someone who’s never played a single minute in the Premier League, but it has the insurance of a buyback in case our staff is wrong (I don’t think they are) and he does turn out to be a goalscoring machine. Keep in mind that Sheffield would seriously soak us if he does turn out to be an ace and we’d have paid them a huge amount for a couple loan years (i.e. not the way loans usually work), so it’s really only last-ditch insurance. If he does turn out to be just solid (he is) and someone else turns his head in a couple seasons, we get 15%. Given that a deal for Shaqiri is likely in the offing (the only reason he probably wasn’t on the pitch yesterday) and we might come out of this window with a net gain, rather than a spend. Cue the foaming idiots on Twitter about how FSG won’t spend money. Making serious bank on Shaq might be the way to kickstart construction on the Anfield Road end, too.
Keep in mind that I’m not especially pleased about losing Brewster or Shaq. The former was a great example of bringing someone up through the academy ranks (he’s been here since 2015) and that’s something that we want to emphasize. It’s not hard to draw a line between Barcelona’s deemphasis of La Masia in favor of buying galácticos and their current decline. We want to establish a culture of advancing players who are already steeped in the Liverpool way, as it were, and I think we’re doing that with players like Neco and Curtis Jones. Rhian just didn’t make it. As for Shaq, it’s obvious that he’s a brilliant player. It’s also still obvious that he’s just never quite been what the gaffer wanted to see on the field. But, the deal ain’t done until it’s done, so perhaps there’s still some Powercube in our future.
So, enough of that. This Sunday we’re at the Villans to endure another saliva bath from English broadcasters about Jack Grealish. It is a match of undefeateds early in the season, just like this past Monday, so there’s that. But, otherwise, I’m hoping for something slightly less exciting than our last visit to Villa Park.