The WITSBP Cup. It’s going to remain a very blasé argument until it finally rolls over and dies or a different sports drink finally funds it to the point where more pragmatic people (waves hand) think it’s worthwhile. I say “blasé” because no one really cares enough to get heated about it, but it’s still an argument. To wit: Is it more important to get the back-benchers some real time on the pitch or is the risk of injury too great? That question was brought into sharp focus in this very match, as a player we’re hoping to get more regular time out of, Naby Keita (as one of the most expensive transfers in the club’s history whose return on that transfer has been crippled (ahem) by injuries) hobbled off the pitch at halftime. The counterpoint is that multiple players, but most importantly both Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi, got time on the pitch to show the value that they’ve had difficulty displaying over the past couple seasons. The counter-counterpoint to Naby’s issue is that he’s had such a hard time with injuries that suffering the same problem in the middle of the upcoming Brentford match wouldn’t have made it any better. The counter-counterpoint to the Taki/Divock thing is that Divock was already playing in the CL against Milan…?
Yeah, I know that doesn’t make much sense, but neither does the WITSBP Cup. Who else but England would decide that they needed a second national cup. Well, yeah, OK. France. But they got rid of theirs because they finally realized it was stupid. What makes this competition even more absurd is the minimal return on it. Winning the whole thing gets you £100,000. Finishing one place higher in the Premier League gets you roughly £2.4 million. So, yes, winning the entire tournament will get you less than 5% of what you’d get for finishing 12th in the PL, instead of 13th. Hooray? Now hear the howls of the smaller club-types who say it’s about the competition and not the money… while also complaining that this competition is a great way for smaller clubs to make real money by going to Anfield or the Emirates and if the big clubs dropped out (as they should), the small guys would suffer. Anyone remember Project: Big Picture? Y’know, where doing away with the League Cup was part and parcel of getting even more money to the lower divisions? Yeah. Remember how virtually everyone from the Championship on down was in favor of that but the Burnleys and Southamptons of the world, still convinced that they actually travel in the same circles as the Manchesters, were adamantly opposed? Well, the Burnleys and Southamptons are still in favor of the WITSBP Cup because they feel like they actually have the chance to win something… just like the teams in the lower divisions! I don’t want to get back onto my rant about the pros and cons of American sports edifices, so I’ll just point you to that link again and move on.
And, yes, there is some validity to the idea that it’s great to see players like Taki really get a chance to stretch their legs. But, again, Div just made a massive contribution in the CL, so it’s not like opportunities won’t exist without yet another cup competition to take focus away from what everyone really wants: the CL and the PL. Similarly, it was great to see Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley, and Tyler Morton get a chance to show what they could do. Of course, they get the same chance with the U23s and U18s, so it’s not like this is their only avenue to prominence. Plus, the whole “chance to win something” argument is pretty fallacious when you look at which clubs have actually won it in the last 30 years. Other than the Villans twice, Leicester twice, Blackburn, Middlesbrough, Swansea, and Birmingham, every other time it’s been a member of the Big 6 that have won it, with the runner-up role also dominated by those six clubs. Man City, in fact, has won 5 of the last 6. The other winner? Man United. It’s just not that interesting. But this game, at least, gave us some things to talk about.
Norwich City 0 – 3 Liverpool
The positive things are the performances. Remember when all those people on Twitter were in a twist about us not spending £100 million on a backup forward? Turns out our backup forwards still have something to show, even in the face of the doubters; myself frequently among them. Yes, level of competition has to be taken into account, since Norwich is the equivalent of a good Championship side and they did some rotation of their own for this match. What it boils down to is our B team is that much better than your B team so, yes, Taki still needs to prove that he can make it work against other PL sides, but this was still an excellent display of his ability and nose for goal. The first one was pure instinct: ball, turn, shoot. It was also Divock’s second assist in as many matches. Taki’s second was even more eye-opening. He took a decent feed from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and then did all the work through the box and finally into a pretty narrow space at the near post. That one was pure skill. He’s a goalscorer. We knew that when we got him from Salzburg. Now he just has to prove it over someone with a bit more resistance than some canaries. In today’s baseball stat, he also became the first player in club history to score all of his first six goals away from Anfield.
Similarly, Divock’s goal was a fine example of the kind of forward that he can be. He has the springs and he has the size to be a force in the air (his assist to Taki was also an aerial challenge) and, clearly, he has the training, as he guided the ball in textbook fashion. Now we just need the consistency. Another baseball stat: Divock is now the eighth LFC player to score at least 10 League Cup goals, for whatever that’s worth. Serving him that ball was another standout performer in our still-early season, as Kostas Tsimikas is honestly stating a case for a lot more time on the pitch in place of Andy Robertson. Robbo is still the nailed-on starter, but there’s little argument at this point that Kostas is just as capable a crosser and actually a somewhat better corner kick deliverer. Also on that back line was the guy we did spend £34 million for.
Just as good as all of those actual stats was Ibrahima’s game presence. His positioning was great and he displayed a great feel for the travel of the ball in the air. His footwork in and around yellow jerseys was also solid; retaining possession in a couple spots that you wouldn’t normally assume centerbacks other than Virgil Van Dijk would be capable of. In that vein, Joe Gomez was also his usual calm and controlled self. There was more pressure on him to be so, as he was wearing the captain’s armband in this match, but he didn’t wilt under that. He’s still a step off the pace in terms of initial positioning, but it’s clear that he’s getting back into rhythm.
Speaking of assuredness on the ball, Tyler was impressive, even in only one half of the game. He ended up in a number of situations where the Norwich press was on and they were actively contesting the middle third, but he never panicked and simply kept control of the ball and kept it moving in true Gini Wijnaldum fashion. You often expect younger players to outthink themselves and/or be so wound up that they have a looser grip, but Tyler showed no evidence of that. The other thing that made him stick out was that Naby was kind of absent in the first half in that respect.
In that vein, Curtis had another solid game, even at the new position of DM. Against an opponent determined to play on the counter, you like having that kind of control in the midfield to disrupt their attacks. Against an opponent pressing to get back into the game, it’s also a good idea to have a mobile and level-headed player to contest them foot-to-foot, as it were. Even though he’s not the prototypical #6, I thought Curtis displayed the right mindset in patrolling his area of the pitch. That was also only his 50th appearance for the club. On the less spectacular side, Ox’s nice tap to Taki was his biggest contribution and Kaide and Conor were both solid, but not brilliant. In the case of the penalty, that’s just how the game flows sometimes and I’ve seen guys a decade older than Conor do exactly what he did. Thankfully, the keeper was up to the task.
That’s a demonstration of full body control by a keeper, combined with a pretty limp penalty shot by the opposition. I think Caoimhin has earned his spot as the #2 to Alisson.
So, enough with that until we get inevitably drawn against PL competition while Man City draws Wimbledon (after they (ahem) beat Arsenal today…) Saturday is our first match against Brentford since the 1989 FA Cup and our first visit to the new Brentford Community Stadium. The last time we visited their previous ground, Griffin Park, was in 1947.