There’s a branch of philosophy known as ontology, which is about the concept of being, existence, reality, and so forth. It’s been around for as long as humans have considered their place in the universe as something distinct from simply breathing, eating, screwing, sleeping, and dying. And, of course, scoring winners in the 94th minute. In the Western tradition, the Greek philosopher Parmenides was the first known person to theorize extensively on the concept when he wrote: “What is… is.” In that way, all of those people on Twitter suggesting that the frustrating game situation leading to Divock Origi being substituted on in the 68th minute was priming the cosmic pump for a last-minute winner (and there were many of them) were simply defining the conditions for the inevitable. Those people have come to implicitly understand the current reality, which is that Divock simply is and match-winning goals late in the game are what he’s about. This was confirmed by him after the game when he said that the most notable instruction that Jürgen Klopp gave him before coming on to the pitch was to: “Go out and be Divock.” Ergo, he was Divock, we scored in the 94th minute, and were top of the league for all of the four minutes it took Man City to score past Watford. What is, is.
People can’t really escape their natures, as much as they might try or as much as others might attempt to change them. Nuno Espirito Santo spent four years shaping Wolverhampton into the kind of obstinate side that can score via Raúl Jimenez and Adama Traore, but spends a lot of its time clogging the middle of the pitch and playing on the counter. They, uh, haven’t been quite this obstinate in recent times, but they’re probably still sorting some things out under new manager, Bruno Lage. That unfortunately resulted in the most Burnley of matches we’ve suffered through this season and one that makes me curse the football gods for allowing this kind of play to happen. For all that English commentators gush about how it’s “brilliant defending” (and the two covering the match today for NBC were regularly doing just that), I’ll go to my death saying it’s anti-football because it’s more about preventing the game from being played than actually playing it. And it’s not just me, as Jürgen pointed out that: “We had to fight against an opponent that changed their approach. They normally are a footballing side. We didn’t see much of that today.” As a perfect example, Hwang Hee-Chan has been developing into a star forward for his side in the past couple months. I don’t think his name was mentioned until midway through the second half because he was a non-entity on the field, just like most of Wolves’ “attack.”
But Divock wouldn’t hear of it. Known throughout the squad as the most affable and relaxed person at Kirkby, it didn’t matter how Wolves’ were playing. The only thing that mattered was taking the moment when it appeared and filling the space created by the universe. What was, was and being Divock was the only thing he knew how to be; just like against Newcastle, Barcelona, Tottenham, Everton, and even Arsenal in the WITSBP cup before this. That was the moment to be and keep being. Next time, we may delve into generic dependence in an ontological framework (e.g. Did Divock depend on having the ball in order to score?) or we might just talk about more football.
Wolverhampton 0 – 1 Liverpool
I’m honestly surprised our xG wasn’t even higher than that, considering that Mo Salah somehow couldn’t tap in a perfect cross from Sadio Mané in the first half and Diogo Jota somehow failed to put the ball past two centerbacks on the goal line in the second; in addition to all the other solid looks that we got at the net, most of them inside the box. It easily could’ve been 2-0 in those last few minutes and Div wouldn’t have been doing anything but trying to keep the ball. But it’s also worth pointing out that, aside from the excellent calmness (being Divock…) to receive the ball, make the turn, and get off a good shot, what set up that whole sequence was another excellent long diagonal from Virgil Van Dijk and a brilliant touch by Mo to bring it down and eliminate Wolves’ entire back line so that he could get in and deliver an excellent cross and chalk up his ninth assist of the PL season. Hilariously, Rayan Aït-Nouri, who had been Wolves’ MotM for running himself ragged while largely containing Mo had just been subbed for poor Ki-Jana Hoever, late of Liverpool. Ait-Nouri and Roman Saïss had double-marked Mo for the entire match, with the former doing most of the running up and down their left side. But one touch by Mo left Hoever in the dust and created the winning goal. (I’m not sure where the coincidence of having two players with an umlaut ‘i’ in their name trying to stop Mo comes in, but it might be beyond me.) Stats may not tell you a whole lot about a match where we spent 93 minutes trying to play while the other side mostly refused to.
And there’s a perfect example. But, of course, those numbers are also only 26 minutes of action, right? It was Origi’s 10th league goal as a substitute for Liverpool, more than anyone else in the history of the club. He’s also second only to Victor Anichebe (Everton) in the percentage of goals he’s scored as a sub in the PL (48%.) That’s testament both to his ability (or simply his being…) and his willingness to fill a role at the club that doesn’t mean starting for the majority of the time. That was also Liverpool’s 13th game-winning goal in the 90th minute or later since Jürgen arrived, four more than any other club. But, speaking of starters:
In a Burnleyed match, you’re looking for guys who contributed to keeping the ball moving. Thiago Alcãntara was that guy and more consistently than either of his two midfield partners, despite Fabinho and Captain Jordan Henderson having good-to-decent games. I thought fatigue after the derby might’ve been playing an issue for Hendo, which may explain why his touch was a little off, but Fab made three interceptions and two tackles and basically locked down the middle of the pitch, per usual. You also can’t leave out Joel Matip who, in addition to more saunters forward than I’ve ever seen him make in a match, also made three tackles, two clearances, and won all four of his aerial duels. Those ventures into the offensive end are something we missed last season along with, for the 57th time, Virg’s precision long passing; one of which set up the winner. It’s ridiculously deadly when one pass can take out an entire side and then Mo’s touch can take out the four who actually managed to get back.
On the slight downside, this was a game that really could’ve used Roberto Firmino. It’s not as if Diogo played poorly and, as I noted last time, his link-up play has markedly improved. But he did seem to be trying too hard against his old side, which led to a number of overly aggressive passes which resulted in turnovers and shots taken that might’ve been better served to one of his wingers. But, again, far from a disaster. It’s clear that Klopp trusts him in the role now, as I had expected Divock to come in as a straight swap, and we instead shifted to the 4-2-3-1 with Diogo in the #10 slot before finally acknowledging that fatigue was catching up with him and bringing in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and moving back to the 4-3-3.
Whew. A lot of stress and ending up with simply being. We travel to the San Siro on Tuesday and then we’re home with Liverpool legend, Stevie G, and his Villans next Saturday. Still not quite sure what to think about that, but there it is.