I’m something of a cynic, although I pride myself on being more of a classical Stoic when it comes to thoughts of a philosophical bent. Too often, the modern perception of cynicism is solely of the negative aspects of that school of thought and rooted in the mistrust of the better intentions of other humans. This extends to the Murphy’s Law contortion of cynicism, where the assumption is that if anything can go wrong, it will. It wouldn’t be too outrageous to find many Liverpool fans hewing to that perspective given what’s happened in the past few weeks. Indeed, the first half of today’s match against RB Leipzig was following what is by now an agonizing pattern: Liverpool dominates the game but can’t score, while the opposition gets a break and we either fall in frustration or outright crumble, as had happened in the past two Premier League matches. LFC controlled the match, had more chances, and probably should’ve been leading against a side that, in marked exception to most of our opponents, was willing to run up and down the field with us because that’s how they play the game, too. So, despite convincing wins over Tottenham and West Ham during the last few weeks, the majority of our games have followed this same pattern and today looked to be no exception. Despite a number of decent chances in the first half, the attack usually ground to a halt in the final third and we were left wondering how it was that a decent side with inferior talent was able to stymie us yet again.
And then, finally a breakthrough. One misplaced pass and one failed defensive effort left both Mo Salah and Sadio Mané running alone in on goal and we know how that usually ends. Neither of them failed to live up to the task and now we can think about the return leg in a few weeks with two “away” goals on our side of the ledger. Side note: Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the absolute idiocy of trying to conduct an international tournament with a pandemic still raging across parts of Europe. It’s not Leipzig’s fault that their government has handled the crisis better than England’s and wouldn’t have allowed our squad into the country, but they had to play a “home” match at the famous Puskás Stadium in Budapest. The lack of fans in any arena ameliorates that somewhat, but it still highlights what a poor idea this whole thing is. Granted, it may also be the last remaining venue for us to get anything metallic out of this season, but that’s a pretty dubious argument for risking the health of so many. As insult to injury for American Leipzig fans, we were also all subject to the monotony of Martin Tyler calling the match. (Why would an “artificial” German club have American fans? Dunno. Man City has American fans.)
But what we’re really hoping is that this, in fact, is the resumption of normal service in terms of goals, wins, and progress toward at least one of our goals from the beginning of the season. I think it was obvious from the opening kick that the 2nd-place team in the Bayernliga still isn’t as good as the sixth-place team in the Premier League, not least because, if you look at the actual talent on the full squad, we’re probably more like the first- or second-place club on that table, even if recent results don’t demonstrate that at all. So, solid win for certain, but nothing to get overly excited about. It’s just nice to have a bit of relief from the almost-constant dark clouds that have hovered over the club since Christmas (RIP Elisabeth Klopp) and it’s something to build upon in terms of hope for the future.
RB Leipzig 0 – 2 Liverpool
Right off the top, one look at Caley Graphics’ xG diagram will demonstrate that Alisson played a key role in this win, as he so often does. In contrast to recent mistakes, Ali played like we know he’s capable of playing and while Leipzig didn’t get any spectacular chances, he still handled all of the decent ones. Leipzig and manager, Julian Nagelsmann, is a team fond of the high press and they came after him and both centerbacks, Ozan Kabak and Jordan Henderson (still only our 17th pairing at that position this season!), on the regular. Speaking of Ozan, he produced a really solid outing:
The cynical way to look at him making the most successful tackles in the game is that, ordinarily, our centerbacks don’t have to make that many in two games because the ball usually doesn’t reach them in situations where tackling is necessary. Whether that’s him sorting out some positional issues or just credit to Leipzig’s attack is open to debate (or a rewatch.) But the fact is that he had to make those moves and made them successfully. It was a clean sheet (Alisson’s 50th with Liverpool; also the 18th in the CL under Klopp, more than any other side in that span) and a win, so that’s all that matters. On the topic of players that have received some criticism recently…
It was also a successful outing by Thiago Alcântara in only 70 minutes. I think he’s adjusted to taking over what is usually Gini’s role as the recycler in the midfield three, as we didn’t see a whole lot of direct offensive output from him (i.e. none of those brilliant feeder passes) but that also may have been a response to what Leipzig was doing, in that the more open back line meant that Sadio and Mo didn’t need passes on a plate, since they were disrupting things enough with the runs they were making already. Indeed, Sadio’s goal came from a searching pass by Curtis Jones:
He played the whole match, whereas Jürgen has normally been in the habit of taking him off in most games that he’s started. I wonder if that means he won’t be starting the derby this weekend? That would surely be disappointing for the young Scouser if that’s the case. Speaking of young Scousers…
Trent played a great game. Our first three chances came directly from him and he forced Leipzig’s back three to play a bit wider than they’d like, since he had total control of that side and wasn’t really troubled by Angeliño. Hope that carries over to the weekend.
One down note. It’s really unfortunate that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just can’t seem to get his season going. He’s basically becoming the shorter Divock Origi, in that he comes into matches and… nothing really happens. He’s never reacquired the burst of speed that he had before that gruesome injury against Roma and it seems like the thigh problem he had over the summer has taken him one step farther back from even that. He used to be a player that produced a serious amount of threat from the midfield and now he just doesn’t appear to fill that role any longer. What’s worse for him is that he’s not that great in possession, so diverting him to being a backup for Gini Wijnaldum or Thiago is akin to making Divock the backup to Roberto Firmino. It just doesn’t produce anything even close to the same results, despite him having been the direct sub for Thiago this evening. I’m still hoping for him to be able to rekindle some of what he was in the 2017-18 season… but that was three years ago and the clock hasn’t stopped ticking.
Derby time! I’d definitely like to be in a better position for this one and I’d certainly like to have more of the squad back so that the potential for an absolute beatdown (like, say, last season’s derby at Anfield) was greater, because there’s no club in the PL that deserves our attention in that respect more than Everton, given what happened to our season after the last encounter with them. Do I sound… bitter? Maybe so. I know I have more of an edge toward those guys than most members of the Detroit OLSC (it’s just cuz I’m old), but this would be a great moment to begin a new four-year winning streak at home that we could point back to like 1995…