That’s what the boss said after tonight’s 3-1 win over Tottenham that keeps us in a viable position to contend for the title we currently hold. Of course, it’s also a tautology, but whatever. I get his point because it was so obvious on the pitch. That constant harassment; that regular surge into the opposing box; that almost complete control of the middle third? That is Liverpool. That is us and it’s a huge relief to see it return after a month in absentia. It’s also kind of a relief to see it after the news leaked out this morning before the game that Fabinho had traveled to London but wasn’t practicing with the rest of the team. That meant that Captain Jordan Henderson was lining up with Joel Matip at CB… until Matip got injured again in the first half, which meant that Nat Phillips had to come on; thus creating Liverpool’s twelfth different centerback pairing in 20 league games this season. We also now have no senior centerbacks available at all, which kind of presses the button for Michael Edwards when it comes to the rapidly closing window. Something else the boss said in response to the ever-pestering media about this very question is that “It has to be the right player. We don’t just want a body.” Um, hate to break it to you, Jürgen, but we kinda do just need a body at this point. Fabinho’s injury could easily be the result of him being overplayed, since he’s been the one constant in the back line since Joe Gomez went down. Unless we’re eager to see how a 13th pairing of Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips might turn out (and who knows? It might be great!), we need someone else to fill a slot.
To Nat’s credit, he played fine, as we’ve seen in his other appearances. Hendo also did well, again, and appeared determined to do the “high line or die” thing. Tottenham is a Mourinho side, which is all about the low block and the counter, which means playing a high line comes with even more risk than it usually does. However, given the pallid attempts at offense over much of the past month, I think Klopp and/or the squad had decided that we were hellbent for leather and going to go down swinging. Every time the ball came back into our end in the first half, you could see Hendo five or six yards ahead of Fabinho, ready to contain the ball in Spurs’ end and press until we squeezed out a goal. And it finally- finally! -happened. Granted, it was almost as much about Eric Dier and Hugo Lloris casually ball-watching inside the six-yard box, but it was also about constant pressure, Sadio Mané’s regular charges behind the line, and a really nice ball delivered from one of our centerbacks (aka Hendo.) Sounds almost familar, doesn’t it? If we can kick things back into gear, even four points down and a game back from Man City, things could look much better a couple months from now.
Tottenham 1 – 3 Liverpool
The most notable change, other than the Incredible Rotating Centerback Cast, was one that a lot of us had been expecting since Thiago Alcântara first walked in the door: Gini Wijnaldum at the 6, Thiago farther forward (as essentially an 8.) Gini is very, very good at the 6, as he proved a couple seasons ago when Fabinho was still learning the ropes. He’s great at both assuming and retaining possession and has great positioning sense, which are the essential facets of a DM. Thiago is also good at these things… but even better when he’s farther upfield to be able to deliver his line-breaking passes to attackers. He didn’t have his best night in that respect (Klopp: “Thiago can do much better.”) but even the threat kept Spurs’ midfield from doing much of anything, as they shadowed him as much as possible. Outside of one killer Tanguy Ndombele turn, most efforts by Tottenham were long, searching balls toward Heung-Min Son, as they tried to ignore the midfield completely. Once Harry Kane went off at the half and the mostly invisible Erick Lamela came on, Son also virtually disappeared from the game. That was also, of course, because Liverpool kept Spurs mostly pinned in their end for the second half until we got up two goals and then decided to play the possession/keepaway game until the clock ran out (which is always, always the way you want to play a Mourinho bus parking side, since they have to come out to try to get the ball off you if they want to get anything out of the game.) So, yeah. More forward Thiago, please.
As noted above, that also seemed to be the gameplan as a whole, since we decided to throw the idea of protecting the back line to the wind and went back into fullback rampage mode. This was possibly Trent Alexander-Arnold’s best game of the season, not just in basic stats (a goal and an assist), but in delivery with his crosses and motion up and down the touchline. Not only was he spot on with things like this:
but also basically eliminated Spurs’ left side of Ben Davies, Matt Doherty, and Son. The somewhat farcical “not dribbled past” stat has been in vogue since the football media started harping on it about Virgil Van Dijk in 2018-19, but it’s actually slightly more pertinent when it comes to fullbacks than it is to centerbacks, because if the other team stays wide and tries to cross into the box (Arteta!), the fullbacks are directly responsible for slowing that advance. Trent “Can’t defend!” AA was key in continuing to make Spurs fans doubt whether Matt Doherty is a Premier League-level player. (Wolves’ fans say he’s basically a wingback and only a wingback.) This was Trent’s line for the night:
Lapse complete? Hopefully. At least we probably won’t have to hear anymore Reece James comparisons until the start of next season. But another highlight performance was James Milner, Robot Warrior:
@LFCData is wrong here. Not a common “machine”. A robot. A killer one. Millie has often been overlooked in the last year or so, as the dutiful soldier who doesn’t bring the flash of the near-mythical Naby Keita (Have you heard of him?) or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or even the impossible-to-get-the-ball-from quality of Gini. But Milner does a lot of little things that add up over the course of the match and this was one of those nights where they produced a cogito ergo sum, as it were. But my MOTM was this man:
He was a constant threat and Tottenham just really couldn’t handle him. It can’t all be laid at Joe Rodon’s feet, as he did play quite well, including one goal-saving tackle in the box that neatly avoided any suspicion of a penalty call. But Mané was irresistible, constantly testing the limits and being on the end of chances created which, incidentally, were Milner (4), Firmino (3), Salah (2), all of Spurs (2.)
Let’s talk about the stupid VAR. JFC. I mean, I’m more than accustomed to our front three getting abused with seemingly no notice by English officials. (I’m sure the fact that none of them are English has nothing to do with it, does it, Harry Kane?) But the above image was the moment before Dier handballed the ball into Robert Firmino’s arm, which was then used as an excuse to deny Mo Salah’s goal. The reason Dier hit the ball with his arm was because it was wrapped around Firmino like it was a rugby scrum. In this version of football, that’s known as “a foul.” In Dier’s case, it was more like five of them. But the result of this play wasn’t a goal for Liverpool, but instead a free kick to Tottenham for an intentional handball. If it was deemed an accidental handball, they wouldn’t have been able to review it, because so much game action happened between that event and the actual goal. But, no, despite Firmino being in the grip of Dier playing free safety, all of that was blocked out by both Jon Moss in Stockley Park and Martin Atkinson on the pitch (kinda like Jordan Pickford’s flying assault on Virg’s knee was blocked out by the determined search for an offside call) and a goal was wiped out so the ball could be given to Spurs. Plenty of harm, but no foul. It’s moments like this that make me almost certain that the FA and PGMOL were determined to sabotage VAR from the moment of its introduction.
And on top of that, Tottenham got robbed, too. The above situation is something that simply shouldn’t happen in football games. Heung-Min Son, facing the other way, but having half his foot past Trent’s armpit is not offside. Any call that’s that close simply shouldn’t be made. It drains the life from the game and makes goals far less exciting than they used to be, as everyone waits for the VAR intercession. Incidentally, that was the first decision overturning a goal in Liverpool’s favor this season, in case anyone is keeping score of which clubs are supposedly benefiting from VAR and which aren’t.
Alrighty, then. We might as well stay in London, since the next outing is on Sunday against the (fifth place!) Hammers in the endless void that is London Stadium. Here’s to no bubbles and plenty of grim Moyes.