There are many ways to look at the single points in a continuum. In the immediate circumstances, you can take the pessimist’s approach: “We had a chance to go two points up on Tottenham and we played like shit and Matip got injured again and we should’ve scored three different times and ended up dropping two points to 17th-place Fulham!!” Or you can take the optimist’s approach: “This year was always going to be weird and we played horribly in the first half and could easily have been down two or three but for Alisson and ended the game with two midfielders playing centerback and still scraped out a point on the road which keeps pace with Tottenham.” You can say it was a game to forget and be right. On the darker angle, you can say it was a game to remember where we’ll be ruing the loss of those two points come May. Or you can say that this is the way the ball bounces in this, the most random of major sports, and move on. I’ve cycled through all of those perspectives in the last two hours and, indeed, in the last five minutes because that’s what fandom is like. What brings me back to earth on the optimist’s side is, probably shockingly, the ludicrous injury situation we’re currently mired in.
We spent (or are spending over the next three to four years) ~£75 million over the summer for Thiago Alcantara, Diogo Jota, and Kostas Tsimikas; all three of whom are currently out injured for the next four to eight weeks and one of whom has been since so since October. The pessimist might say that we might as well not have spent a dime for all the good it’s doing us right now. That would have to be ignoring Diogo’s remarkable goal contributions and Thiago’s sterling plays when he was available, which is the optimist’s take. On top of that, when they do return, it will be quite the injection of ability in a time of the season where Klopp’s teams have often needed one (January-February), especially since this year’s schedule kills the infant Premier League winter break in its crib. Of course, given the season-long injuries to Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez, plus continuing problems with Joel Matip (sigh) and Naby Keita (sighhhh…), we may be down to playing all academy players by the time we do hit February. Given the performance of many of those kids so far, I guess that wouldn’t be a disaster, but I’m guessing we’d probably be struggling to hit even 79 points, which is the pace we’re currently on; a large step below the feats of the last couple seasons.
But, again, this season is not those seasons. With the continuing pandemic problem and the lack of fans in the stands and an even more intense schedule than normal and the worst injury crisis I can remember in 43 years of watching Liverpool Football Club, one has to acknowledge that circumstances surrounding our play and our point total might not be of the optimal variety, so to speak. Was I irritated at watching our first half hour look like we didn’t belong on the same pitch with Fulham, of all clubs? Yes. Jordan Henderson in the post-match had no answers for why our team looked so poor, either, and anyone watching could both see and hear Jürgen Klopp’s opinion of it. One advantage of Craven Cottage’s remarkably small environs, pointed out by the beloved Ian Darke, is that you’re really on top of the game when we play there. But there’s no doubt that Fulham deserved something from the game, since they were the better side for the vast majority of the first half. They, of course, had to play Burnley Ball for the entire second half, which is awful, but that’s what 17th-placed sides do… which is why you’d normally expect Liverpool to show up and walk away with the three points. But this season is not last season or the season before, so here we are.
So, at the end of this season, do we wave this one away or look back at it as a moment of infamy? Who knows? Find me the guy who bet on Leicester to win the PL five years ago if you want a real answer. Personally, when it comes to gritting my teeth over lost points, I’ll think about the VAR debacles at Goodison and the Amex moreso than one game where we could’ve played much better but, in the end, at least dug a point out of it. Does that make me an optimist? No. I think it just makes me a football fan who’s been watching for a long time. In the end, you only have so many memories you can dredge up.
Fulham 1 – 1 Liverpool
Positives? Well, I thought Curtis Jones was one of the few excellent players on the pitch for Liverpool, as these stats suggest:
He also created one big chance… for himself, when he took the ball from midfield, dribbled past three defenders, and launched a solid shot that was unfortunately straight at keeper Alphonse Areola, who had a solid game. Speaking of solid games, there’s also Mr. Reliable:
Yes, we’re playing two midfielders in front of goal, but one of them is turning out to be every bit as good at CB as he is at DM. The VAR check on the penalty was the other side of how inept the PL is at implementing the system. It shouldn’t have taken that long, nor should Andre Marriner have had to check the monitor, as soon as you see Fabinho toe-poking the ball past the line. That’s a tackle. Game on. The only thing that would’ve made this game any worse was getting a goal waved off based on someone’s armpit again. Also, it has to be said that O Captain Our Captain once again stood up when called upon and replaced Joel and did really well, just like in Qatar last season. We actually spent a lot of time in what was kind of a back three, with Taki Minamino having come on for Joel and Gini then moving to DM. That often left Gini, Fab, and one of the fullbacks behind while Hendo surged forward, looking to produce a goal (which he almost did.)
But Fulham’s 3-4-3 did give us problems. On top of the poor play, the inability to move through the middle third meant that we spent a lot of time dumping long balls into the channels that went nowhere but to Fulham defenders. Both Sadio Mané and Mo Salah threatened frequently, but with Trent Alexander-Arnold still being a bit off from his spell on the injured list, we couldn’t switch play as often as we’d like to take advantage of their crowding the middle. As a mild bright spot for American MNT fans, Antonee Robinson had an excellent game stonewalling our right side.
But the man between the sticks was also a highlight, along with Curtis and Fab. Due credit to Caomhin Kelleher’s excellent performance over the past couple weeks, but Alisson is everything that we paid for. He made four saves and each of them was highlight-reel worthy, especially in the couple of instances where there was obvious confusion in front of goal in dealing with crosses (again, two midfielders playing CB…)
This is beyond stupid. Seriously, I don’t remember an injury crisis that even approaches the magnitude of this one. It’s not just that we’ve lost players for the season (Virg, Joe) or that the same players keep running into problems (Alisson, Naby, Joel, Xherdan Shaqiri) or that normally quite durable players are also out (Trent, Jamez Milner), but also that the three players we bought to reinforce our depth are all currently sitting in the stands. I saw a flurry of moaning about Klopp having screwed up because he played Diogo against Midtjylland on Wednesday. But of course he did. Diogo was bought to be a backup for the front three. A dead rubber game is when you play the backups and both Taki and Divock Origi were already on the pitch. So Diogo got injured in a game that he was basically bought to play in. This isn’t complicated. Klopp confirmed after this match that Joel just had a “back spasm” that they “don’t think is serious.” OK. I thought we might skip January (because no money) and roll with whom we have, but now that Joel is still Joel, unless we’re confident in rolling with Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips for the rest of the year, we might be forced to make a move. Keep in mind that Nat was on the bench at Craven Cottage, but I think Klopp wanted to keep Hendo on the pitch, since taking the captain off while we were playing so poorly would’ve been counter-productive, at best.
Other things to forget. Andre Marriner is an at least mildly competent PL official (I know that’s setting the bar very low) but, like Martin Atkinson, he’s also one of those who often seems like he just wants the game to be over so he can go back to painting his miniature furniture that probably makes him more money than his real job. That makes him really reluctant to blow his whistle unless he sees blood. And that’s fine. If everyone knows that’s how the game will be played, you just adapt. But the tackle by Ademola Lookman on Neco Williams should’ve been a straight red card. He lunges in, studs up and over Neco’s foot, kicking his leg out from under him when the ball is already gone. If the ground wasn’t slicked by rain, that’s probably an ankle breaker that Marriner just cited as a yellow. Of course, he was probably imagining a three-inch portico set at that point, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
Argh. Well. Many marbles in play on Wednesday. At the very least, it’s at Anfield so the Kop will be there to back us up. Tottenham have been rather drastically exceeding their xG to this point, so let’s hope that a) this is the beginning of the return to normalcy; b) Harry Kane gets called on his really dangerous play at the top of the box; and c) we get to see Mourinho’s irritable side in the post-match press conference. That’s always fun.