It’s really difficult to do reasonable player-to-player comparisons. Sure, you can compare numbers and even performances if they happen to play together on the same squad or if they’re competing in the same league at the same time. But football is a team game, so the composition of your surrounding squad matters moreso than many other sports. You can talk about a basketball player elevating the performance of a squad by their mere presence but it’s rarer in soccer for one individual to change as much. So comparing statistics is often less straightforward than most would like it to be. And, of course, some don’t even bother to check the numbers. Mo Salah is one of the greatest forwards to ever play for Liverpool and among the best wingers to ever play in the English top division, but some Chelsea fans still think he’s not even in the conversation with Eden Hazard. Sometimes you can’t fix stupid. (And now he’s definitely in the conversation with another ex-Chelsea player, Didier Drogba, as Mo is closing fast on the latter’s scoring record in the CL for African players.)
That kind of comparison is even more difficult with younger players, since the sample sizes tend to be small. I’ve been calling Curtis Jones “Curtinho” as kind of a joke, not only because it’s a complimentary assessment of his midfield play, but also because of our history with a guy who left us for (ahem) better things at the Camp Nou. Even this past summer, there were still people among the LFC fanbase suggesting that we should pick up an unwanted Philippe Coutinho because they’re somehow still in love with the memory of a player who not only has no place in our current squad or scheme, but are ignoring the players that we do have who are, according to the few numbers we have, performing as well, if not better, for us than Phil ever did. One of those, of course, is Curtis. A Twitterer was pointing out that in 7 CL appearances, Curtis has 6 goals or assists; a goal contribution every 84 minutes. In the limited chances he’s gotten, that means that overall he’s had a G/A every 178 minutes in all competitions. Phil’s record, over many more games, was 150 minutes. Even more importantly when you get away from offensive actions by, y’know, watching when they actually play games, you notice that Curtis actually plays defense, which is just as important as offense in a Jürgen Klopp midfield. Plus, as always, we didn’t spend a dime for him and he’s a homegrown player and a Scouser(!).
Then we come to games like tonight against a simply overmatched opponent where hardly anyone can do wrong on the pitch and… Curtis still stands out. He plays within the system, controls his area of the middle third, and gets balls forward to the front line. Many of his touches were 1v1, as well, so it’s not just a matter of the vast gulf in average talent level between the squads (Team game!) He’s a starting midfielder for Liverpool Football Club because of what he produces by himself and with his teammates. This is exactly the kind of player we want and he came from within our system. Combine that with a commanding win, an opportunity to rest a lot of our guys before this weekend’s title struggle, the result of the Abu Dherby/El Gassico (LOL) and the new Sheriff of the Bernabeu (LOL!) and this was almost a perfect CL day, except for Atleti’s last-minute penalty against 10-man Milan. There are a lot of reasons to feel positive about the club and the squad right now. The past is the past. Look forward.
Porto 1 – 5 Liverpool
The hilarious part of this match was that no fewer than three of our five goals were of the “They see me rollin’” variety, with keeper Diogo Costa making some, um, questionable choices and stuck with the rest of his squad watching the ball roll across the line at a very saveable speed. Granted, he made a hell of an effort to try to save the last one from Roberto Firmino, but time and footspeed were not on his side tonight. Two other things that were in our favor were that Porto were kind of riven by absences and the Russian lead official, Sergey Karasev, decided he was doing a Premier League match (Russian or English, your pick.) Chancel Mbemba was already absent because of the straight red he’d picked up in Porto’s draw with Atleti, but they were also short one of their best CBs when Pepe (not Pepé) picked up an injury in the warm-up before the match and then were down an important wingback when Otávio pulled a hamstring 14 minutes in. So this wasn’t the best squad the Dragons could have put on the pitch. Even so, I don’t think it would’ve mattered.
Karasev also decided to “let the boys play”, as it were, in that there were any number of moments when you could see most of both squads freeze on the pitch after an impact, expecting to hear the whistle, and then watched Liverpool plowing on through when they didn’t hear it and Porto not reacting quite as fast. The Primeira Liga ain’t the Premier League (English) and if we’re going to play EPL style, we have an even more pronounced advantage than we had already. Of course, poor Sérge Conceição has been present for all of our recent games with Porto, where we’ve outscored them 16-2 (and extended our record of never having lost to the Portuguese club to 9 games, more than any club other than a couple relics from the two previous centuries), so he’s probably used to this feeling of misery by now. One thing he shouldn’t be used to is his keeper charging off the line to have no effect on the ball whatsoever. In that respect, you could argue that Liverpool’s victory was helped considerably, but Porto’s defense was also utterly under siege (21 shots, 13(!) on target), so they would’ve gotten across in some fashion. That’s because there were basically no bad or even mediocre performances tonight, most notably not this man:
Shots, assists, and chances created (aka key passes) are best in game and you can add 4 successful dribbles (also best) and a tackle to those numbers. That’s a MotM performance in almost any estimation and the front line clearly benefited.
Even in just 23 minutes(!)
Sadio Mané can’t be left out of this, either, with a goal, a chance created, 2 tackles, and 4 ball recoveries on that left side. Despite some doubting his ability to stay with this squad, Sadio is doing exactly what Jürgen asks him to do and doing it well, even if some people somehow have the impression that the finishing problem has continued into this season. Most clubs would be thrilled with 4 goals in 8 matches by any forward, but especially a winger. The fact that he’s often in Mo’s shadow is a testament to the latter, not a failing of Sadio. Incidentally, that goal made Sadio just the third player to score 20+ goals in the CL, behind Mo (28) and Steven Gerrard (30.) It was also Sadio’s 5th against Porto; the most by an LFC player against a single opponent in the Champions League. I also can’t fail to mention James Milner, Robot Warrior’s continued reliability at right back In Trent’s unfortunate absence. His cross for Sadio’s goal was pristine and made him the LFC record-holder for CL assists, along with Stevie, at 12. Furthermore, I think Joel Matip needs a citation for his continued excellence. His reliability in space and while on the ball has been, if anything, even better than in seasons past. Both of those guys are easily two of the best, if not THE best, free transfers the club has ever brought in.
Among other records set tonight, this was Captain Jordan Henderson’s 400th appearance for the club. He’s the 27th player to do so and the first since Stevie G did in 2007. This was also the third time in club history that we’ve gone six straight games with 3+ goals; the other stretches were in 2009 and 1892 (You, uh, should recognize that date.) That’s a total of 20 in those six matches, as well, on 17.4 xG off of 26 big chances (4.3/game) but, y’know, we can’t finish… That’s also been 132 shots in those matches, 49 of them on target. As Crouchie (former LFC forward Peter Crouch) said on BT tonight: “I look at teams like Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United who have spent money but Liverpool’s starting XI is as good as anyone – if not the best.”
One sad note, of course, was the news before the match that Liverpool legend, Sir Roger Hunt, had passed away at the age of 83. Roger was a Liverpool legend before I began following the club. He formed one of the greatest striker pairs in football alongside Ian “The Saint” St. John and was a World Cup winner with England in 1966, as well as a pillar of the club that Bill Shankly created in the 1960s. As another of our knights, Sir Kenny Dalglish pointed out: “Those of us who followed you and Shanks’s men were fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants. Thank you for everything you have done for our Football Club. YNWA.” What he said. Roger, still the scorer of the second-most goals in Liverpool history, had his own opinion on his social status: “I never needed [a knighthood]. I was knighted by the Kop. That means more.” That’s a Liverpool man.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! It’s the first showdown with the title-holders. At a packed Anfield. And hopefully a packed Magee’s. Let’s do this thing.