Everything evens out in the end

I really dislike the phrase that is the title of this post, generally because it’s usually not true. It’s often used to pacify those who’ve had an injustice done to them; promoting the idea that those committing said injustice will gets theirs in some way, either through karma or some version of the afterlife or just the random brutality of the universe. But that’s not usually the way it works (and there is, to date, no one who has returned from whatever version of the afterlife you may believe in to state otherwise.) Justice is usually a long, hard road walked by many people to address a problem that would otherwise be ignored/covered up/lawyered away by those with more power and money. It’s even less likely to be the result if we just believe in that random brutality (a very Hobbesian perspective, I admit.) Look at that pic above. Is that ball going in or will it be a near miss? Can Ederson get to it? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? We know the spectacular result, but it’s the fine margins that make the randomness of this game so impactful and lead to results that can seem “even.” Football being what it is, random results are no stranger to anyone who’s been a fan for a while. You can look at last week’s draw with Brentford and think to yourself: “A little more focus, another step here or there in the box, and we come out with three points.” The same could be said of today’s game against Manchester City. If James Milner steps a little wider on Phil Foden… If Fabinho uses his first touch to shoot… But the argument goes both ways in the game overall and in the game that was played on the pitch today. If Foden lifts that ball a little higher… If Milner gets called for the very justifiable second yellow…

So, yeah. There were a number of opportunities for us to win this game and, equally, a number of opportunities for City to do the same. The fact that it ended up as a draw is perhaps the best example of that whole “evens out” thing (And an even number (4) of goals, too. Cosmic!) Any number of commentators referred to this match as the two best teams in the Premier League and two of the best in the world, both before a ball was kicked and certainly after. Of course, those two best teams are both sitting behind Chelsea, who happen to be in first as we come to yet another international break. If you look at the past four seasons, Liverpool have 280 points and Man City have 279. That’s the even part. But in the course of those seasons, LFC have won 1 out of the last 8 against the Cityzens (lost 3, drew 4), which is less palatable although, again, that’s a difference of 1 match if we win one of those 3 losses. Again, pretty even. We won’t even go into the relative net spends of the two clubs over that time (Shhhh. It’s £342 million to £1.04 billion; kinda like the £34 million we spent on Ibrahima Konaté compared to the £100 million they spent on Jack Grealish.) because money doesn’t always tell the tale in terms of success or actual player value. The most valuable player on the pitch for City today was Foden, who came up through their academy. The most valuable player for us was either Alisson Becker (first half) or Mo Salah (second half and overall), whom we spent considerable sums of money on.

But that’s how reactions to this match work, too. Almost everyone outside of Magee’s after the final whistle had some version of: “[shrug] Take the point and move on.”, which is a perfectly reasonable perspective. We could have ended up with zero points almost as easily as three. Do we feel lucky (“Well, do ya, punk?”) or aggrieved? Unlike last week’s match with Brentford, I’m feeling a little less aggrieved because City isn’t a club that we’d expect to take a win from by default (although Brentford, only four points off the lead, is kind of stating their case for inclusion.) But I’m not feeling lucky, per se, as I still think this game was ours to take in the second half (and, honestly, a first half that wouldn’t have been so one-sided with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the pitch.) But that’s the game. In the end, it did turn out even. Now the task is making sure it doesn’t end up that way at the end of the season, as we’re behind on away goals to both City and Chelsea…

Liverpool 2 – 2 Manchester City

Caley’s comment for this one was “What a game.” In truth, just looking at the diagram, one’s usual reaction wouldn’t be that exclamatory, because it resembles your average Newcastle v Watford match, where the xG and number of shots stayed so low because those sides just aren’t very good (Watford will be on their 18th manager in the past 10 seasons when we meet them in a couple weeks.) But the truth is that the match was brilliant, as the two sides jousted with each other, probing for weaknesses or just flat out attempting to beat each other with speed and hoping a friendly shirt was on the other end of a pass into the box. I will confess to not really understanding our strategy in the first half, since we kept both fullbacks (Andy Robertson and Milner, Robot Warrior) farther back than normal, which didn’t give us much in the way of width in the offensive end, and instead sprayed a bunch of long passes to our isolated wingers which didn’t come to much. It might’ve been a way to protect James from the speedy Foden and it was later apparent that the redoubtable Milner needed that help, as Foden had him turned around a couple times and, in one case in the first half, had beaten him to the box and would’ve been 1v1 with Alisson, necessitating a hip check that would’ve been a foul anywhere else in the world but the PL. That offensive approach also found Captain Jordan Henderson drifting into the center more often to try to prise City out of their usual approach of dwelling in the channels. That occupation of the channels and our refusal to go wide meant that the center was even more suffocating than usual, which meant that Fabinho was basically invisible for much of the game, robbing us of his usually adept control and distribution. We may have been attempting to counter Grealish’s function as a false 9, as well. Focusing on Grealish and the usual attention paid to Kevin De Bruyne meant that Bernardo Silva often had a lot of space to operate in and showed why he’s still a key element of their squad. This is the kind of thing that David Silva used to do to us.

But the second half changed things around in that the FBs did start to move up, getting Robertson far more involved in the game to our benefit. Hendo mentioned after the game that our press was malfunctioning, which is why we spent a long period pinned into our half of the pitch in the first half. What I was wondering was why, even when we had the opportunity to move up, it didn’t happen in our usual fashion until that second half when things began to flow our way as regularly as they did City’s. And then things like this happened:

Yeeeeeaaaah, boyeeee! Sadio Mané said after the match that they practice goals like that and, uh, you can tell. As Lee Dixon comments on at length, Mo’s actions are precisely tuned and Sadio’s are the same way. They know exactly what to do at every moment. And, of course, Dixon highlights that control again a few minutes later:

He’s the best forward in the world right now; not just the league, not just from Africa. In the world. There’s an argument to be made that he’s the best player, period. As Graeme Le Saux pointed out during the match, “you can argue about who’s the best player, but no one is playing better than him right now.” This is the moment that FSG should be thinking about when it comes to an extension of his contract (that is, both the goal and Teddy KGB.) It was also awfully reminiscent of the goal he scored against Spurs four years ago, so it’s not like he hasn’t been doing this for a while. He’s currently tied for the lead in the PL golden boot with Jamie Vardy and he’s had more goal contributions than Vardy with 3 assists, as well; all of that in just 7 matches so far. This match included 2 chances created, 11 duels won (best in game), 9 touches in the opponent box (best in game), 3 shots (1st for LFC), 5/8 dribbles (best in game), and 4/5 tackles (best in game.) You can’t be better than this.

Further on the positive side, Joel Matip played an excellent game, winning 3 tackles, making 4 interceptions, and blocking 2 shots (best in game for those latter two categories.) He’s also second on the team for progressive carries (moving the ball on offense) by distance this season, averaging 190 yards per 90 minutes. Those even more frequent than usual giraffe gallops that he makes? That’s what those are. As noted, the Robot Warrior had a bit of trouble keeping pace but you can’t doubt his intensity (as Foden duly remarked after the game) and his performance against Porto was evidence that it’s not like a gaping hole is produced when Trent isn’t around. However, a glance at the above graphic from NBC will show what we are missing when he’s not on the pitch. Would that have gotten us the full three points? Maybe. There’s almost no doubt that James would’ve been sent off in any other league and most other PL games for sending Silva head over heels on the touchline midway through the second half (resulting in another explosion by Pep Guardiola that might enter meme status; not least because of Mike Dean’s casual reaction) so, yeah, not the best moment for that “like for like” swap, let’s say. But it is still a measure of depth that we have two capable replacements for Trent in James and Joe Gomez (and ostensibly a fourth in actual right back, Neco Williams, who was again on the bench but has yet to touch grass in a competitive match this season.)

There are, of course, a number of questions to ask on that downside, as well. It’s fair to argue whether Fabinho’s relative absence was because of Man City’s typically superlative play or because he was just not up to his usual level. I will say that I think the complaints about the open goal are a little harsh, since it was a bouncing ball on the weaker foot of a not-regular shooter. Also, Hendo’s play was definitely off, in addition to his shifts in positioning, as he gave up an unusual number of turnovers and his passing accuracy was below 75%. We also had a number of long balls and headers that went right to blue shirts. That latter point has been more of a concern recently, with our header actions being more of the “just bounce the ball!” variety, rather than actually passing the ball to a teammate or at least bringing it under control so that a teammate can retrieve it. Alisson wasn’t immune to that long ball criticism today. OTOH, his defensive work was his usual brilliance, with a couple key saves keeping the game from escaping us. Ali often doesn’t receive the mention that he deserves here in both the good results and the less-good, but he’s still among the best keepers in the world and continues to save goals and points for us.

Back to pointless international stuff for the next two weeks. I have no idea what the actual travel limits will be at the moment, but if Fabinho and Alisson are permitted to travel and stay the whole time, Brazil has a match scheduled for Friday evening on the 15th, while our next PL match is the early game on the 16th (Watford), which means they’ll have to miss it (and would have, anyway, COVID restrictions or not), which makes the usual international aggravations (fatigue, potential injuries) that much more aggravating. As always, I’d be happy to just dispense with the whole thing (international play; borders and nation-states, in general; etc.) but that’s because I’m a rebel and have been hoping for other things to, uh, “even out” for a long time. Until next time, let’s follow this tweet’s advice and just relax with more Mo:

Even got Martin Tyler to appreciate it!

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