It’s difficult to know what to feel at this point. On the one hand, it’s a loss to Manchester United, which rankles at any time and in any competition, pre-season friendly to the Premier League. OTOH, it’s a competition that most fans don’t really care about anymore, despite the constant bleating by sportswriters about the “tradition” and “majesty” of the Cup. On the one hand, it’s another loss which means we’ve won 1 out of our last 7 games in all competitions. OTOH, it means we have some free dates for rest and recuperation where we otherwise wouldn’t have. However, on that first hand, we’ve demonstrated repeatedly that the squad actually functions better under pressure than when lacking it. OTOH, the second half of this season’s schedule is going to be mildly ridiculous, so this may be one of those times when some lessening of the grind might be ideal. On that nice, first hand, we scored a couple goals! OTOH, we also let in three, two of them off of routine counterattacks, which is exactly how every team we play is going to function (maybe even City…?) for the rest of the season.
One would like to think that Joel Matip won’t get caught out of position like Rhys Williams unfortunately did for ManU’s second goal, as Marcus Rashford did a solid job of eating Rhys’ lunch for much of the match. Of course, one would like to hope that Joel will be able to play more than every other league match without breaking something and that’s a pretty tenuous hope. The Twitters are aflame at the moment with people blaming FSG for not picking up a CB (we’ve even begun to see the old #FSGOut trolls reemerge in the opportunistic dim light), including regular LFC journalists like James Pearce and Simon Hughes, since Rhys kind of demonstrated his difficulty with a team that can attack like United. Looking down the list of our biggest rivals for the title, you can pretty much line up Spurs, City, and Chelsea as the kind of teams that might be able to take advantage of the 19-year-old’s lack of speed and experience. Oh, and we have to play United again, too. By the same token, he’s stood in well against sides that don’t have that kind of speed and precision up front and one has to be careful about the whole baby (19!) and bathwater thing. Most CBs aren’t that fast. We have two in Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez who actually are. That’s what’s allowed us to play the way we have for the past three years. One can’t blame Williams for being not quite suited for that kind of play if he’s the only one on the roster who’s available to stand in at CB (Jordan Henderson was out injured and Nat Phillips is no faster than Rhys.) He has plenty of upside. That one aspect isn’t one of them.
But ranting about FSG not spending money is also not entirely within the realm of reason, given that CBs with that kind of speed aren’t available without an extraordinary outlay of cash (provided their club is willing to sell in the first place) and cash is one thing the club doesn’t have much of, at the moment. Keep in mind that said mythical CB would also be expected to pick up Jürgen Klopp’s system in the middle of the season when we’re fighting for a title. Good luck with that. And, of course, tonight wasn’t all on Rhys’ head. Far from it. One can certainly question normally rock solid keeper, Alisson Becker, who wasn’t entirely at fault for the three goals, but certainly questionable on a couple of them. Those are shots that you’d usually expect a top keeper to save, not to mention the errant pass to Fabinho that led to the set piece that scored the winner. But it was that kind of up and down game for a lot of the squad and, overall, it still looks like a team that’s just not clicking with the same kind of intensity and confidence that it once had. To take a cue from the former overlord of today’s game location, there is something to be said for rotating the squad even when it’s winning. Maybe that’s what this side needs. In the end, we fall out of the FA Cup yet again without even reaching the quarterfinals, but in that same end, it’s hard to care when you face the brutal reality of the situation: Most people don’t remember who won the Cup by the next season and we earn almost as much money (£2.5 million) for winning a group game in the Champions League as we would for winning the FA Cup (£3.4 million.) Since money is often what matters most in the modern era (see: above discussion about CBs or the lack thereof), it’s hard to get in too much of a twist about it.
Liverpool 2 – 3 Manchester United
For all that Martin Tyler’s monotone and underlying ManU loyalties annoy Liverpool fans, he’s not often wrong about what he’s seeing. It was a pretty good match, with a lot of action and a number of chances for both sides. It was certainly a far cry from the drudgery of facing a side like Burnley (May they be relegated, in the name of the Fowler, Stevie, and Crouchy spirit. Amen.) and, at the very least, it was on a Sunday and in the FA Cup, so a loss doesn’t ruin your whole weekend. But despite the good game, it also produced a fair number of middling performances on Liverpool’s side. Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino were threats #1 and #2 on offense, with the latter putting in two assists on the day to go with the former’s two goals. Curtis Jones played well in Sadio Mané’s slot in terms of ball control and motion, but he lacks Sadio’s burst of speed to threaten the box. Like Rhys, that’s not his fault, and it was at least an innovative idea to see what he could do farther forward.
The midfield was often absent offensively, though. Other than Thiago Alcântara being universally present to protect the back four, James Milner, Robot Warrior and Gini Wijnaldum managed to retain possession in the middle third but didn’t do a lot with it. This is where we miss Hendo and where we’d like to be able to see Fabinho in his normal spot at the 6 with Thiago farther forward. Trent Alexander-Arnold was improved over his recent outings, but neither fullback really impacted the game on the day, despite Andy Robertson trying to shout down Mason Greenwood on his way in for ManU’s first goal which, it has to be said, could be partially blamed on Robbo being caught out.
Again, it’s great to see Bob back in the swing of things, as neither Lindelof nor Harry Maguire (as @GeoGabe noted on Twitter: “Didn’t Handle It Well: The Harry Maguire story.”) knew how to deal with him. But that relatively small passing number is indicative of the lack of balls being fed into Bob or the lack of targets in the middle third to receive them, such that the interplay was mostly between him and his fellow forwards, which is not the way our system normally functions. At the very least, we’re not talking about officiating debacles after a game vs United, so there’s one mild grace.
So, yeah. Not a whole lot else to say about that, mostly because it’s the FA Cup, but also because it’s the continuation of problems that we’ve seen before and still can’t solve and likely won’t solve until Virg and/or Joe make their way back (Don’t hold your breath for this season, yo.) Next up is the match against the World’s Most Overpaid Bus Driver, so be sure to get your yawns ready. It’s too bad that match is so important to our season.