Are you in-competent? Are you in-decisive? Are you in-jured?

I’m a long-time Warner Brothers’ fan, mostly for the subtlety and subversive nature of a lot of the messages. Most kids wouldn’t really be interested in a joke about Wile E’s ego being played into a breaking-of-the-fourth-wall moment (e.g. when Bugs looks at the audience), but it’s there because the animators were staying true to the nature of their characters and because they also knew that, despite being supposedly “for kids”, there would be a lot of adults watching the shorts alongside their small people in the theater. The cartoons were intended to have multiple messages and depth, as all good jokes do. This is similar to the argument that many put forth about VAR; in that the game’s rules are supposed to be applied to everyone, without favor, and the VAR is there to ensure that that happens, even if the officials can’t catch everything on the pitch. That would, of course, entail a reasonable application of that technology, which the Premier League has, to date, been almost utterly IN-capable of presenting.

Let’s clear up something right away: Sadio Mané was obviously offside for the second goal called back. There’s no debating that, so I’m not even going to start. But that’s kinda where the open-and-shut part of this examination ends. To wit:

This is the “evidence” used to deny Mo Salah’s rather brilliant chip into the ground and over the head of Mat Ryan. First off, let’s not even get too deeply into the “how do you choose one single frame” discussion, since there’s no way to determine when the ball actually left the foot of the player (in this case, Roberto Firmino) when the timing is reduced this much. This is the polar opposite of the problem of relying on humans (linespeople) to see said simultaneous action which might not even be in their field of vision. The latter is too broad, while the former is too narrow. But the thing that really sticks out at me from this picture is: Why is the line drawn to the inside of Ben White’s right foot, while a straight-line view would show that his left shoulder is ahead of that point (i.e. keeping Salah onside)? The fact that we’re getting down to questions of millimeters and body parts shows just how ludicrous this whole discussion happens to be and is exactly why FIFA stressed some common sense application to these scenarios last season when so many goals were being wiped out. The Eredivisie has gone one better, in that they’ve acknowledged that the lines drawn by the technology are the equivalent of 5 cm in width and can mask whether goals should be considered legal or not. Thus, any measurement within 10 cm is disregarded. In the Dutch league, this goal would have stood.

But then we come to the clincher. If you look at the event in the box, you can’t argue with it: It’s a foul. Andy Robertson kicks Danny Welbeck’s foot. That’s a foul. However, it didn’t affect play, as neither reached the ball and the lead official didn’t see it. Play continued. This is the normal course of events: if the on-pitch official didn’t see the play or saw it and deemed it a non-issue, nothing happens. In this case, however, VAR actually performed correctly (i.e. notifying the official that there was a play to be looked at), he viewed it on the monitor, and made a call where he hadn’t before. In this case, the problem isn’t the execution. It’s the consistency. (Are you IN-consistent?) That was a foul, but this wasn’t:

Neither was this:

In both of those latter instances, the ball was being played toward goal, rather than bouncing out of the box. The fouls directly interfered with the ability to play that ball, whereas this one didn’t. And, yet, the game was re-officiated and a penalty (willingly admitted to by Welbeck and other Brighton players as being “soft”) was given. Having been on the wrong end of a Man United penalty recently, you can perhaps understand why the Gulls players would be willing to sympathize with their opponent. So… yeah! The system worked as it’s supposed to. It just hasn’t a few dozen other times and was used in this case to award a goal that had nothing to do with the play at the time. English officiating!

What I would like, in this strange season of fixture overloads and mass injuries and the resultant chaos, is to have one thing about the most random of games be even semi-reliable. I’d like this not to be the comedy of errors that Bugs Bunny encouraged, since we’re going to have enough trouble playing competent football (or any football) in the first place. I’d like to look back on this season and think, if we didn’t win the title, at least it was because of “normal” factors, like not being able to field 11 players(!), and not because the PGMOL was so radically opposed to the concept of change that they set about implementing the new technology in such a haphazard fashion that certain teams that play in our style wouldn’t suffer from it more than others (Small sample size, but we currently have 8 VAR decisions taken against us this season. The next closest clubs have 4.) It’s slowly turning into a situation where I’d much rather watch cartoons than watch the Premier League.

Brighton 1 – 1 Liverpool

A casual glance at the xG values above would argue that Wednesday’s lethargy on the offensive end had not dissipated this morning. But xG measures shots, not chances. We had two brilliant ones in the first 10 minutes that would’ve given us a lead to coast on if they had been put away. To that end, Brighton had watered the field heavily to slow us down and there was a fair amount of slipping happening. Diogo Jota’s attempted feed to Salah in the first two minutes was probably also a victim of that water, as it slowed appreciably before reaching him. (There’s a funny balance to be achieved with watering pitches: Too little and the dry grass creates more friction on the ball. Too much and the ball can’t make it through.) Overall, we didn’t play well. But had we put away a couple of the opportunities presented, then all of this talk about VAR and the table would be just an exercise in frustration, rather than also incorporating the concern about how many points we’re dropping this early in the season and against teams like Brighton, rather than Man City.

As for the changes to our side, it was a mixed bag, like everything else about this game. The front line was largely fine, with Jota slotting home another nice feed from Salah as the ball was kept moving on the left side of the box. The midfield… Eh. Gini Wijnaldum did fine at the #6, as he always does, but he’s clearly exhausted and was lacking some of his usual verve. James Milner, Robot Warrior, was capable but then ended up being lost for who knows how many weeks with a hamstring problem. That, in itself, is something of a condemnation of the staff, given that shifting him to right back to replace Neco Williams for the second half was almost predictably risky and we’re going to pay for it now. Taki Minamino…

I like Taki. I think there’s potential there. But I’m doubting whether it’s potential to be a real asset for a team like Liverpool. Klopp obviously thinks differently and in almost all cases: Trust in the Klopp. But there are repeated signs that he simply doesn’t fit the way we play. The most basic is in terms of possession. The essential element of the famous gegenpressing is timing: the best time to retrieve the ball is immediately after you lose it. A lot of teams play like that now, including Brighton. Taki hasn’t shown any ability to retain the ball or retrieve it. This is less important on the front line, where he usually plays, since our high line will mean enough bodies forward to contain the ball in their side of the field. But it’s really important in our midfield. Gini is, of course, the perfect comparison and Milner isn’t far behind. Drop the ball to either of them and it’s usually going to be controlled and moved somewhere else, either at their feet or to a teammate. Drop the ball to Taki and, in the majority of cases, he’s going to either lose it or not be able to do anything productive with it. He simply succumbs to the opposing press too easily and can’t be relied upon to get it back. Now, again, on the front line, that’s not as important… unless you expect him to be a viable replacement for Bob in which it’s HUGELY IMPORTANT. Also, think of all the times a ball gets fed forward to Mo or Sadio or Diogo and how they hold on to it and end up pivoting past a defender while feeding each other. That’s part of what makes our front line the best in the world. That’s not something I would currently expect out of Taki and that’s a problem.

In complete contrast is Nat Phillips who, once again, demonstrated that he’s a perfectly capable Premier League centerback. Trust in the Klopp has a flipside to it. We were ready to sell this guy, thinking he’d never make it to the first team on a regular basis and I wouldn’t have questioned that decision for a second because… Klopp. But the injury disaster being what it is, it’s been extremely fortunate not only to have held on to him, but also to have given him the opportunity to stretch his legs a bit, as he’s turning into quite the asset and not just because he’s a large, warm body to be slotted in. The only downside there is, so far, what he can’t really do, which is emulate Virgil and Joel Matip’s precision long passing. But he’s way past being a “nervy” selection. Rotation player, confirmed.

In contrast contrast is Neco WIlliams. The thing to keep in mind about Neco is this: He’s nineteen years old. He’s a kid. Yes, Trent got on the pitch as a regular player at 19, blah, blah, blah. Trent is also a freak of nature and the best player to come out of our academy since a guy named Steven Gerrard. Comparing the two is an IN-justice to Neco. You can’t expect him to live up to that level. If he could, he probably wouldn’t be a backup. Klopp likely took him off at the half for multiple reasons; not least of which was the same problem Taki was having: he wasn’t dealing with the opposing press very well. That’s fine. That’s why we have subs. It’d be a helluva lot better if we had five of them, Chris Wilder and petty supporters of Other 14 clubs, but here we are. Maybe with Brighton watching their primary CF (Neil Maupay) and senior midfielder (Adam Lallana; Hi, Llama!) walk right down the tunnel will mean that Graham Potter and his superiors are now on our side. Regardless, there’s zero reason for any Liverpool supporters to be trashing Neco for his performance. The kid needs some time.

The IN-jury thing. What a nightmare. I was thinking before the season that recruiting Thiago Alcantara was kind of superfluous, since midfield was the deepest spot on our squad. Ha. It’d be great if Richarlison hadn’t removed Thiago from consideration for the last month, but at least he actually got red carded for it. I know of no better way to reiterate the frustration with the injuries, the schedule, and the subs than simply to let the manager do it:

This is the deepest squad I’ve seen at Liverpool since the late 80s. We could challenge for a treble with this squad if we weren’t playing every three days for two months straight AND if the PL and the broadcasters could actually think to protect some of the more burdened clubs in terms of timing. You’re not going to lose any money by putting our game at 5:30 BST, rather than 12:30. The game will still be played on the same day against the same opponent. All of that said, despite the ridiculous pile of injuries, the COVID cases, and the number of replay decisions against us, we’re still top of our CL group and top of the PL table. Mentality monsters, but for how long?

Alright, I’m done ranting about this. Like I said above, it’s getting onerous. I don’t want every goal to be something I just shrug at until two minutes later when the purple screen says it’s OK. I still think VAR is a useful tool. I just think that the PL’s implementation of it is sapping the life from the game. We’re back in action on Tuesday against the perennial Dutch champions, then it’s a whole five(!) days off before we get to tease Wolves at Anfield about giving us Diogo for so cheap. Meanwhile, I leave with you some genuine joy of the game at the feet (and head and shoulders) of one of its true masters. RIP.

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