It would’ve been appropriate if the word “grueling” was Old Norse or something closer to modern Danish, but it is, in fact, a Middle English word from “gruel” which originally meant “to punish”, which is kind of like what watching today’s game felt like. With the backup front line in, it was never going to be as smooth or dominating as our play often can be. But this was taking “disjointed” (also Middle English) to a whole new level. Liverpool didn’t manage a shot, to say nothing of one on target, until a few minutes into the second half. Against Midtjylland. Danish champions, yes, and as the manager said, a Champions League side, yes. But still. Seeing the scoreline from Atalanta blowing the doors off last week kind of led me to believe that, even with the reserve strike force, we’d be able to put this game in its place relatively soon after its commencement (again, Middle English, from Old French.) But all it really did was convince me of a couple things.
One: I don’t think the 4-2-3-1 is really working for us as a base strategy. I think the squad has the fine threads of the 4-3-3 so drilled into their heads that it’s more work than it’s worth to shift out of it. An on-the-fly change during a game, as we’ve done many times over the past few years? Sure. But coming out in it, even with the addition of Jota, doesn’t seem to be a workable option right now. You could see the drastic difference in play in the midfield as soon as we switched back to the 4-3-3 in the second half. It also helps our wide play (i.e. Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold) to not narrow the middle third onto the double pivot. As the manager has said before, the worst thing to become is predictable and it’s not like we haven’t used the formation before, so it wasn’t like we were switching to a 5-4-1 or a contrast of that sort. But I still think the 4-3-3 simply maximizes the personnel we have on hand in ways that other formations don’t. The club is basically built around the latter formation and stepping away from it is going to look like something foreign for a while.
Two: While Diogo Jota has been another brilliant signing by Jürgen Klopp and Michael Edwards, the depth behind him is still extremely questionable. This was a side that was almost literally miles behind us in comparative strength, depth, and money, but the only attackers on the pitch who looked like they belonged there for LFC were Xherdan Shaqiri and Jota. Divock Origi, despite his near-legendary moments, is simply not up to what Klopp is asking. We tried playing him as the point man and he can’t clear enough space. We put him to his customary left wing and he can’t provide enough disruption. One of the commentators asked why Origi wasn’t making the kind of runs that Mo Salah and Sadio Manè began making as soon as they hit the pitch. I’ll tell you why: Because he can’t. Turn the clock back a couple years and he could occasionally make them before Funes Mori ruined his ankle and he put on 10 kg, but that’s not his game anymore. To be honest, I’m not really sure what his game is anymore. Similarly, I have to confess that I’ve been routinely underwhelmed by Taki Minamino’s contributions on the pitch. I recognize his talent, but it never seems to really appear when he’s playing against real competition (i.e. not totally overwhelmed Bundesliga.2 sides in pre-season friendlies.) I’m not sure FC Midtjylland even qualifies as “real competition” but it’s certainly possible that Taki can’t make the jump from the Austrian Bundesliga to the top leagues. As always, trust in the Klopp. If he sees something, then he’s likely right and I’m likely wrong. But, at the moment, the contrast between putting on Jota as a sub or a starter and putting on Taki could not possibly be more dramatic.
On the upside, this was the first extended look at the Powercube since the nothing games of the WITSBP cup and he looked like he’s still got it (at least against Danish competition…) That return pass to Trent for the feed to Jota on the first goal was slick and emblematic of why the Cube has been a desired property on already quite good teams like Liverpool and Bayern Munich. He’s really good at stuff like that and you’d hope to see that more often so that he could get into the regular PL rotation. Given the injuries felling our guys left and right, we may not have a choice pretty soon. Fabinho is gone with a hamstring problem (quite obvious as soon as he pulled up) for who knows how long, so Rhys Williams, with two CL appearances under his belt, might get his first PL start against the Hammers this weekend. “Trepidation” comes from the Latin trepidare: agitated. Seems right.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Midtjylland
Caley is spot on with the description in the tweet in which he posted this diagram: “Basically nothing happened in this game” until the beautifully-worked goal by Shaq, Trent, and Diogo. With that in mind, determining the best performers generally had to come from those three; not because they were directly involved in the only goal from open play (Tangent: I hate that tendency. Tipping the one guy who scored the only goal in a 1-0 does a serious disservice to the contributions of so many other players. How many times could we have considered someone like Virg to be the best player on the pitch and yet he doesn’t win MotM because he didn’t score? Yes, goals are important. So is the buildup play that produces them, as with this one. /tangent) but because the three of them were probably the best players all over the pitch. Like Trent:
Along with those numbers, he also had the most touches of any player in the game (119.) Our right back had the most touches, if that tells you anything about not only Trent’s enormous talent but also the general inability for anyone on the front end to really make an impact, other than…
And this was with Diogo starting on the right, which put Origi in his favored spot on the left, Taki out front, and the Cube slotted into the center, appropriately. Once Gini came on, Shaq dropped to the right mid and Diogo went back to the left, with Origi and Taki rotating through the right side and the middle. As you might expect, if you’ve been watching his performances, Diogo, while able to play across the front, really excels coming in off the left side, which is where he got the goal. Shaq’s stats aren’t quite as impressive, other than the hockey assist, but what he did do was create a couple great chances and keep the ball moving through the middle with good control and good pasing. He also tracked back a lot more than usual, which is a very positive sign. Now the real question is: Can he play centerback?
Because we have an injury crisis. Now, I’m not going to join the Twitterverse pile-on, reveling in their stopped clock status about not finding a replacement for Dejan Lovren. The plan for having Fabinho function as the fourth CB was working, rather spectacularly. But there’s no denying that the situation was worth the arch of an eyebrow when you consider the injury history of both Joe Gomez and Joel Matip. Gomez has been much more consistent since he returned from his broken leg, but Matip has become even less reliable than before. All due credit to Rhys, who played great (again) and has a great future to look forward to. Just the same, I can’t say I like the idea of sticking the 19-year-old in front of Michail Antonio on the weekend, with the backup being 17-year-old Billy Koumetio or likely-never-gonna-be-a-PL-player Nat Phillips. All the rumors currently slithering around the club have been about biting the bullet and paying the January premium for another CB from somewhere and that was when we thought it was “just” Virg being out for the year. So, this is where we are.
Next up: Them Hammers. They’re in their customary spot (12th) with the customary record (2-2-2) and the game is at Anfield, so I’m thinking the odds at Betway are still going to be in our favor. See you Saturday, Jamo? After that, it’s a first-ever club trip to Atalanta and their new stadium, which is the game I’ve really been looking forward to since the draw. I leave you with another example of Trent’s brilliant precision passing, this time off the half-volley: