Back Up

So it might be time to step back and acknowledge this Liverpool side as something special. I mean, yeah, it’s still early but with the records that keep falling, everyone else is starting to sit up and take notice in the same way Reds supporters have. It’s not just things like scoring 2+ goals for a longer string of matches than any English top flight side in history (18.) That’s kind of a baseball statistic; shaped to acknowledge something but not a concept that would normally be plucked out of the air. How about not failing to score in a single match this season, 23 in all, and now 30 straight if you go back to last season? Or how about the fact that we just soundly defeated the Serie A leaders at their place with a backup squad to become the first English club to win all of their group stage games in the Champions League? This was a match we didn’t need at all, which is why we played with only three regular starters- Sadio Mané, Mo Salah, and Alisson Becker. In contrast, this is a match that Milan desperately needed in order to keep their faint hopes of continuing in the competition alive. And, yet, we danced around them like we’ve done with so many other teams this season. But, y’know, remember that according to the transfer window warriors, we have no depth.

AC Milan v Liverpool FC: Group B - UEFA Champions League

I tend to dislike the term “backup.” These players are in the Premier League and CL squads because they’re very good to elite players. Certainly, most of them are not starters but, just as certainly, Jürgen Klopp believes that all of them could be starters. Without a doubt, man-of-the-match Ibrahima Konaté played one of the best games any centerback has played for us this season, which is high praise considering the obvious comparison to the performances of Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip. So, no, Neco Williams is not going to replace Trent Alexander-Arnold anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that he’s a ‘B team’ player (‘B’ as in ‘backup’.) It just means that we have a superlative player ahead of him. In fact, considering that he did pretty well at right wing tonight after we maxed out our substitutions and we’ll be a little short on that side in January, maybe now is the time to shift him to that role on the regular. Except, of course, that he’d be in no better a situation, since right wing is where the current best player in the world is playing.

But, and I’ve harped on this before, the fact that we can bring in kids as young as Tyler Morton, Max Woltman (Making his professional debut! In the San Siro!), and Conor Bradley and play them alongside guys as experienced as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho, Sadio, and Mo and do so with the confidence that everyone understands their multiple roles and can play our system instinctively is a measure of what Jürgen and his staff have achieved at this club. And especially in the case of Tyler, who looked excellent out there today, minding the middle of the pitch for opposing offensive surges and even delivering an excellent feed into Ox in the box(!) in the 80th minute, we know that the pipeline from the academy is wide open. Franck Kessie for Milan has often been in the conversation for Liverpool as a potential acquisition. Whom would you have preferred in midfield today, Kessie or Tyler? I know what answer I’m giving because I know who already plays for one of the best- if not the best -teams in the world. So, yeah, bring’em on. I know our “backups” can play against league leaders and now a whole lot of other people do, too.

Couldn’t find an xG diagram. This was almost as good a summation (was 1.57 LFC – 1.48 Milan or thereabouts.)

AC Milan 1 – 2 Liverpool

One strange thing external to anyone’s performance today was that the pitch seemed to be dry, as the ball was moving a lot slower than one would normally expect. Certainly, if Milan wanted to slow down our normally lightning-fast attack, it would be a good idea to leave the sprinklers off. But all of the mud smearing across backs and hips didn’t seem to indicate that that was the case, so I dunno. Another strange thing was how non-aggressive Milan seemed to be. Obviously, they didn’t want to run with us but they did need to win this game and, after they’d seen that we were playing a lot of non-regular starters, you’d expect that they would decide that the gloves are off and be ready to charge at us. But fear of Mo and Sadio might have ruled the day and they were just hoping to stay off the ball and win by a couple flukes, as almost happened at Anfield. But this man ensured that that wasn’t going to happen:

That collection of young guys we played in this match? Ibra is one of them, as he’s only 22. That passing accuracy statistic includes being 2/4 on long passes (more than 30 yards) and one of those tackles was a brilliant touch right in front of the box against Kessie which diverted a rossoneri rush. He was so good that the other Ibra, the 40-year-old one he’s keeping away from the ball in that pic as he did for the whole game, asked for his jersey after the match. That was one of Milan’s offensive threats utterly neutralized. As for ours:

20 goals. It’s December 7th. Only Mo and Robert Lewandowski have reached that level this season. Along with Rushie in the 5-in-a-row club (Rushie actually did 6), Mo joins Gordon Hodgson (1930-31 to 1934-35) and the recently departed Roger Hunt (1961-62 to 1965-66.) All five of those men are now Liverpool legends. Mo is also only three behind Sergio Aguero’s 36 goals as the most ever scored for an English club in the Champions League era. Mo is also (obvsly) among the list of 5 Reds who have scored 5+ goals this season, including Diogo Jota (9), Sadio (9), Roberto Firmino (6), and our other scorer today:

Makin’ a statement, yo. That goal came from Sadio forcing a Milanese error and then getting a good shot away that was parried by Mike Maignan and which Divock put a smart header on which gave us the lead and the win.

The lineups were entertaining as the substitutes came in. At one point, we had a front line of Taki Minamino (moved forward from his starting midfield spot), Ox (likewise) and Neco (moved from his usual RB spot.) The midfield was Naby Keita, Fabinho (both as subs, but would normally be starters (aka not backups)), and Tyler Morton (shifted out to the right from his start as the 6.) This was with Joe Gomez replacing Neco at RB. Ox started a little slowly (like the ball) but ended up having great control through the middle third; demonstrating again his performances earlier in the season that should earn him more regular rotation. Not to be left out, Alisson also had an excellent save in the second half when Kessie did actually break through and come in alone. Alisson met him halfway through the box and spread himself wide to turn the shot away. But the moment of the match easily had to be this:

Yes, that is the stalwart Nat Phillips (a monster in the air, as always; winning 4/5 duels) doing a Cruyff turn in our box to take the ball from Ibrahimovich. We have now seen everything. Who’s the Ferrari now, bubbie?

This Saturday, we welcome back not just one of our own, but one of the greatest to ever pull on the red shirt… and to hopefully beat his squad to a miserable pulp. Yeah, sorry. I don’t have a “second team” in the Premier League. I pretty much hate all of them after 40+ years of matches, if I bother to think of them at all other than being another three points. The Villans are just one more to take down in the quest for the title. Then it’s a Thursday(?) match with Saudi PIFC. Joy.

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