As I’ve noted before, I tend to struggle with draws more than I do losses. Often, when we’ve lost that’s just the way the game was going. Yes, that stretch during the winter last season when we were repeatedly losing 1-0 to weaker sides was difficult to take, as there were any number of moments that might have interrupted that trend. But it was also apparent that we just weren’t playing well and had an injury crisis. So, you grit your teeth and get on with it. Draws, OTOH, often produce even more of those moments, especially when you dominate the first half as we did this weekend against Brighton. Coming away with only one point where, by many of the stats (but not xG), we should’ve had three is often even more aggravating than not getting anything. It especially gnaws when it’s plain that this year’s race for the top is going to be even more of a struggle than usual, since there are three teams involved, instead of the two that have been the winners for the past three seasons. That just magnifies the “every point is crucial” perspective.
Yes, it’s fair to say that Brighton are actually a pretty good side and not just clinging to Premier League life as has often been the case in prior years. That makes this weekend’s draw somewhat less irritating than a faceplant to Fulham or something like that. But what makes it worse is seeing the clear tactical change that Brighton made at halftime (Ex-Red Adam Lallana pointed out that they just started isolating Jordan Henderson and that pretty much neutralized our midfield play) and knowing that our obvious weakness was the one place where we also have this year’s injury crisis: midfield. Having started the seasons with eight senior mids, we’re now down to three: Henderson, Curtis Jones, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Yes, Fabinho is supposed to be back this week for the visit from Atleti. Yes, Thiago is now back in regular training. As with all things injury-related, I’ll believe it when I see it. The worst event of the match, of course, was seeing Naby Keita, whom we didn’t expect to see at all, make a great start until, 17 minutes in, Naby Injury Time began again. Ox, unfortunately, is no replacement for Naby in the passing department and, once Lallana had largely man-marked Hendo out of the game, everything ground to a halt. It didn’t help that neither Curtis nor Roberto Firmino had very good games. This is one of the rare times that I would’ve been in favor of subbing Bob out much sooner, with the midfield clogged, and going to a long-ball game to try to take advantage of Diogo Jota’s speed.
But those are all Ifs and Buts and Maybes that accompany most draws. If Naby doesn’t get injured… If Diogo comes on sooner… If Mo Salah begins his run just a quarter-second later for that third goal… On that note, I’m not sure where we are in the VAR decisions table (goals lost/gained because of VAR) but there haven’t been any outrageous reversals so far and that one wasn’t, either. We’ve led the way in the PL for the past two years (e.g. had the most goals taken away by VAR) but, with the most goals scored in the league, we’ve not been screwed in the manner of those seasons (yet.) In the end, we outplayed a decent side in the first half and then, in turn, got outplayed in the second half. There’s really not much more to say about it, which is part of why I haven’t bothered to do so until two days later. The other part, of course, is that I’m still gritting my teeth about two more lost points when we’re now three back of Chelsea. There’s still a long way to go and the holiday period impacts everyone differently. I’d just rather not be heading into it with another injury crisis, although at least this season we’re not going in with the pressure of maintaining a lead and are, instead, the chasers. We’ll see how that works out.
Liverpool 2 – 2 Brighton
As it happens, the xG plays out just like the game did. Each scored from a big chance just outside the six-yard box and a small chance from outside the big box. Their small chance was even less likely than ours, but their big chance was, uh, bigger. They packed their penalty area well, as you can see from the scattering of shots taken that were basically just “toss it in the mixer” moments that didn’t happen to be crosses. But the Seagulls also stayed wide on us, which limited the effectiveness and number of said crosses. Trent Alexander-Arnold did even more of his recent trend of shifting in toward the center, which meant less service from outside (it will be so nice when we can move Hendo back to his usual right-side #8 spot), but Andy Robertson was also limited, as Solly March and Joel Veltman combined to cover most of his usual avenues. That’s in tune with the general observation that we were simply a lot slower in this match than we were against ManU. Brighton does a better job of clogging the middle and covering passing lanes, but there was definitely a lag in our usual passing approach. We just couldn’t seem to keep the ball moving and, eventually, Brighton preyed on that. Opta was piling on by pointing out that this was the 250th time that LFC have led a PL match by two or more goals, but only the sixth time that we haven’t gone on to win the match (the third time under Jürgen Klopp, incidentally.) That kind of puts the lie to the old “2-0 leads are the most dangerous”, even if this match did play out exactly as that meme presupposes. That was the macro side of the study in contrasts. Here’s a micro side:
This tweet is accurate in that, by the numbers, Ibrahima Konaté played pretty well. But if you watched the match, you would’ve seen several moments where his ventures forward (which our CBs, especially on the right side (i.e. not Virgil Van Dijk) are encouraged to do) left gaps behind that our midfield trio allowed Brighton to exploit. Jürgen mentioned our inability to defend the half-spaces and that’s what he meant. So, it’s fair to say that, by the numbers, Ibra played well. But his approach also exposed us, while not being entirely his fault. Team game, yo. Another contrast:
That “completely isolated” observation is highlighted by the low number of passes. Not only was the midfield losing the ball into gaps, but they also weren’t able to get the ball forward to Mo in the second half. Now, we all know that Hendo isn’t the ideal in the #6, but he’s also able to produce some brilliant games, as last week’s effort against ManU showed. But that’s also because ManU is a perfect example of a bunch of individuals on a pitch, which is the antithesis of what Brighton are. But the other problem is that, again, Curtis and Bob didn’t play well, and Ox just doesn’t seem to have what’s needed to make our passing game function. Yes, his cross for Sadio Mané was brilliant. He can do stuff like that when given the space to operate, but when it comes to holding and recycling the ball and defending those half-spaces, well… Let’s just say that he’s no Gini Wijnaldum.
Disappointing result, but at least it’s a point? Some of our guys didn’t play well, but they’re still our guys? (YNWA!) Just one match, there’s a long way to go and we’re still in second place? Yeah. Any of those are decent reactions. But this match did play out pretty similarly to the draw with Brentford, in that the opposition, despite falling behind, kept driving and eventually matched and exceeded our intensity to get something out of the game that, on paper, they likely shouldn’t have. We have some defensive issues that will hopefully be alleviated by getting Fab and Thiago available again. We’re in the driver’s seat in our Champions League group, but it would be nice to lock it up on Wednesday against Atleti. After that, we head south to the taxpayer-funded asset for the Hammers and our old pal, Davey Moyes.