The scorpion king

I was wondering about a theme for this piece that didn’t make it just like every other WITSBP Cup piece, where we talk about what a waste of time the cup is and about players that don’t play that often or, in the case of Harvey Blair and two others today, have never played for the senior team at all. And then, in the course of continuing the strange, mythical career of one Divock Origi, he did… that.

People laughed at Pep Lijnders yesterday when he suggested that Divock was “a top-class finisher” because of the huge number of times we’ve seen him be unable to do things with the ball when presented with excellent chances. Of course, he’s also scored some great goals, so it’s not as if Pep was just taking the piss. But “top-class” is not a description I’d have immediately applied to any aspect of Divock’s game. He’s good. At rare times, he’s really good. What he’s lacked most often is what Klopp prizes beyond almost anything else: consistency, which is why he’s not a regular starter (and also because he’s simply not as good as Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, or Mo Salah.) So Divock shows up at the tail end of games we’ve won or in the domestic cup games that, for the most part, nobody cares about. This is like being the Scorpion King to The Mummy franchise. Yeah, it has its fans and, yeah, it made some money, but it was never as big as the thing that spawned it and never would be. But sometimes, like Divock, it’s worth tuning in just to see if he can hit a moment like that. It’s pretty rare to see a scorpion kick for a goal in the first place, to say nothing of one performed on a ball that’s not only going past the player, but doing so at such an oblique angle that you can’t imagine that someone would actually think of swinging their foot at it. This is what many, many hours on the pitches at Kirkby looks like, I guess.

Unfortunately, the scorpion king theme (even the real one) doesn’t really fit with a League Cup match against a Championship side that hasn’t been in the top division since 1961. The theme is about something ancient and glorious. The League Cup, only around since the 60s, is anything but that, on either front. Given that the last four Scorpion King films have been what we used to call direct-to-video (in the streaming age, that’s not really a thing anymore), that part of the theme still works, though. So, we’ve already covered the bit about players that don’t play that often and here’s where I’m talking about what a waste of time the cup is, so I think it’s inescapable. Just like the scorpion in the fable says, it’s just in the nature of the beast. So, let’s do a bit more of that, since the second half was at least much less of a grind than the first was.

Preston North End 0 – 2 Liverpool

It was a full 11 changes from Sunday’s annihilation of Man United, even if it included two regular starters in Curtis Jones and Joel Matip. Consequently, as any reasonable person might expect, things got off to a slow start for the Reds. The Lilywhites were more than happy to give us all the possession we wanted, but when it comes to actually doing something with that possession, nothing much happened in the first half for our side. (I was tempted to say that Liverpool’s best player in the first half was Sepp Van Den Berg, who was and is still playing for PNE.) Preston, OTOH, had a couple sequences of genuinely great chances and it was only Adrián’s excellent play that kept us from going into halftime down a goal or even two. Included in their most threatening moment a great save by Adrián and a goal line clearance by Neco Williams’ face before the follow-up was blazed over the goal. That luck of the draw was kind of the highlight. But there was another solid team talk by Jürgen during halftime, because LFC came out with a bit more intent and fluidity. Taki Minamino was both initiator and recipient of that improved play, as he did solid work in the Bob role, dropping ridiculously deep to retrieve balls and then being in place for a nice cutback by Neco (initiated by a good feed from Tyler Morton) that Taki side-footed out of the air. That’s five goals for Taki in four games this year, which makes you think that he’s getting close to the level that Klopp wants. Of course, most of those have come in the WITSBP Cup, so the level of competition hasn’t been tremendous (Yes, I’m including Norwich in this assessment.) Divock’s wonderful scorpion kick came off a Kostas Tsimikas cross that hit the crossbar and dropped in front of Neco who took a shot that then bounced past Divock, setting up the strike. That was also Divock’s 11th goal in 15 appearances in this competition. So, good fortune on the defensive end in the first half and offensive end in the second, with our oft-maligned backup RB involved the whole way. But, despite Preston’s basic unwillingness to come out and play, there was still some solid work on the defensive end, led frequently by the team captain.

There was a time before his injury last season that people thought that Joe Gomez would be locked in as Virgil Van Dijk’s regular partner. And then, the bad times came. The stat line above is considerably better than a “solid display” but we also have to consider the level of the competition. Even so, it’s still a great example of the ability we have riding the bench (Depth!) and how stats can sometimes tell only part of the story.

No one would necessarily look at Neco’s statline and call it eye-popping but, again, he was everywhere up and down that right side. His impact on the game at both crucial points and in constantly moving the ball is what earned him that MotM award and it was well-deserved. Tyler had a shout for being that key player, as well, as he kept the ball moving nicely through the middle third (which, again, PNE was mostly willing to concede to us.) In fact, he did so somewhat better than someone else who’s become a WITSBP Cup regular, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Granted, Ox’s role was a bit different than Tyler’s, as it was obvious that the former was playing the attacking 8 role and the latter more of the Gini recycler function, but it was still somewhat irritating that Ox couldn’t make more happen with his opportunities. But that’s also a reflection of the squad (and this competition) as a whole. But, again, 11 changes. A whole other team. Dropping Ox into a midfield of Fabinho and Captain Jordan Henderson is a lot different from dropping him alongside Curtis at the 6 and a U23 stalwart on the other side. Harvey Blair, an 18-year-old debutant did decently with his start before being taken off early in the second half. Similarly, Owen Beck finally stepped on the field with the senior team, as did Elijah Dixon-Bonner and both looked capable for this competition.

Meanwhile, I can’t finish this without pointing out similarly oft-maligned, third choice keeper Adrián’s excellent play once again. Many Liverpool fans don’t hesitate to degrade a still-reliable player and one who is enormously popular with the rest of the squad. That means a lot, especially when you have a group of players who aren’t accustomed to being on the field together and/or without starter supervision. He, quite literally, kept us in the game when Preston’s gilt-edged chances in the first half and persistent low block throughout might have easily allowed them to slip away with a 1-0 win. Whether continuing in the competition is actually a positive thing as a result is the eternally open question.

So, yeah. Many more words than the game probably needed or deserved. Was fine. Was a win. Still in it with six other Premier League sides and one League One contestant (Sunderland) and, thus, still on track to maybe win a cheap trophy in February. Meanwhile, back to real business on Saturday as we finally return from our extended road trip into three different competitions and meet the Seagulls at Anfield.

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