There’s always a fine line between encouraging players to give their all and recognizing when player safety is an issue. I’ll be the first to say that play in the English top division is absurdly physical, especially when compared to the other top leagues of Europe. You can get away with things in the Premier League that wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else. Take, for example, Joelinton’s two-handed shove to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ribcage in the second half. Anywhere else in the world, that’s a stone-cold penalty. But for Mike Dean, it’s just about “letting the game flow.” That’s the same principle he applied to the aftermath of the corner that led to Liverpool’s first goal, when Isaac Hayden and Fabian Schär went down in the box after a collision with Jamal Lascelles. Schär got to his feet, but Hayden stayed down and Eddie Howe insisted that the goal was tainted because Dean should’ve stopped the game for a head injury. However, neither Dean nor the VAR observed any kind of head injury and, thus, play continued. The Reds, understanding that you keep playing until the whistle is blown, got the equalizer. Howe later claimed after the game that Hayden was “dazed and clearly not himself.” In other words, he’s claiming that he knew his player was showing signs of a concussion but left him on the pitch for the rest of the game. So, tell me, Eddie: What’s more important? Leaving everything on the field or player safety? The PL, like most of the major leagues, even has the concussion sub rule so that your supposedly seriously injured player can be evaluated by your medical staff. Of course, he didn’t need to be evaluated because the replay shows that he didn’t have a head injury and instead cost his team a goal by, hilariously, keeping Diogo onside while lying (and lying) on the turf.
But the fact that he was obviously faking injury apparently doesn’t matter because it doesn’t fit Eddie’s narrative about how that goal “was the key moment in the game.” It’s not like Saudi PIFC’s goal wasn’t under siege for the preceding 15 minutes or anything and that score by Diogo Jota was a just return for having the ridiculous amount of the ball in the Magpies’ end that Liverpool was enjoying. The Saudis completed a whole 152 passes for the match (less than 1/3 of LFC’s total.) Liverpool had 11 corners to their 0. They were playing a 5-4-1 on offense and despite two breakaways by Allan Saint-Maximín and Ryan Fraser, the former stopped by an excellent save by Alisson Becker and the latter with a pinpoint tackle by MOTM Trent Alexander-Arnold, were more outflanked, boxed in, and generally enveloped by our side than almost any other club we’ve played this season. After we took the lead, the entire match had the air of a formality, as the vast talent gulf between one of the best sides in the world and the wealthiest club in the world was exposed again and again; not least because we kept up our intensity for the entire match and they, well, often looked like they were hoping for a whistle rather than playing to one. This is another of those “playing hard or playing rough” questions, as we were whistled for twice the number of fouls that they were (9-4) but had the ball for 75% of the match.
In the end, despite some wayward play by Thiago Alcãntara (I think he and Captain Jordan Henderson became so accustomed to Fabinho’s presence in the last couple months that there was some confusion between the two of them over who was actually playing the 6…), it was a demonstrative win that made Liverpool the first club in history to get 2000 wins in the English top flight (ahead of Arsenal’s 1927) and for Mo Salah to equal Jamie Vardy’s record of 15 straight games with a goal involvement (15) and for Jürgen Klopp to get his 150th PL win (fastest ever for an LFC manager) and to score in a new-club-record 32 straight games and… and… and… The list goes on. That’s what intensity produces because that’s what Jürgen demands. The benefits are there for all to see. That’s what’s going to keep us in this race and bring the trophies that the club desires. And maybe see the wealthiest club in the world drop to the Championship. That’d be a shame.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Saudi PIFC
That xG diagram tells you everything you need to know about playing a 5-4-1 up and down the pitch and what you might expect out of it for, y’know, scoring. Credit to former Red, Jonjo Shelvey, for putting the ball in the perfect spot and so quickly that Alisson didn’t even move to try to stop it. But four shots, all from outside the box, is pretty pathetic, especially when considering the torrent happening at the other end. Part of that torrent was initiated by the best right back in the world:
You can add 76% passing accuracy and a last-man tackle to that pile of stats, too. That last note is especially sweet for all the Twitdiots who yammer on with the meme about how “Trent can’t defend.” If he couldn’t, we’d be playing him as a winger or a #8. Speaking of defense…
This man has turned out to be everything we expected. He’s calm with the ball at his feet, even under pressure, has surprising burst to catch up with attackers who’ve run under long balls, and has remarkable footwork for a big man. One moment in the second half where he kept a ball in play on the touchline in front of Jürgen, with Fraser on his back, had me laughing. Hopefully, Virgil Van Dijk won’t be out for too long, as Ibrahima is still not quite as good at putting the ball onto Mo’s toes, but he can only get better and I’m supremely confident with him partnering with Joel Matip. Also, a nod to the captain:
You almost can’t ask for a better midfield performance than that. Since Jürgen arrived, we’ve played a lot more of the “total football” approach than many other sides. You can see it when both the front three and the midfield three freely swap places as the ball moves around and pressing assignments shift. It’s become even more noticeable when Fabinho isn’t present because all three midfielders tend to swap the #6 spot between each other on the regular; mostly Hendo and Thiago. Again, I think there was some confusion over responsibilities tonight, which led to Thiago’s two major mistakes. But that will happen and since we know Fabinho is likely out for the next couple games, it will be easier for them to adjust with that knowledge. The key here for Hendo was that he did a lot of little things and often thankless things to keep the game flowing (kinda like Mike Dean!)
Also, due credit to Sadio here. Yes, he hasn’t scored or assisted for one of his longest stretches since he’s been at the club (since ’17/’18) but he’s doing so much more to set up the ridiculous number of goals that we have scored. This game was no different. He’s a pressing monster and it’s that pressure that keeps defenses off-balance and creates openings for Mo, Diogo, and Roberto Firmino. The best example of that was his refusal to go down in the box from Schär’s foul, which he easily could have done, and instead continued to push the ball at Martin Dubravka, who had to make a desperate save that Mo then turned in off the rebound. And even with the dearth of goals recently, Sadio is still tied for fourth in the league with 7.
So, after a couple of one-goal thrillers against decent sides, this was a mildly tense domination of an awful side. It’s a pretty sorry reflection on the club that used to be known as The Entertainers back in the 90s under Kevin Keegan and with the great Alan Shearer. But, then again, it will be the most cosmic of cosmic justices if they do go down with their $800 billion that they then won’t be able to spend under EFL finance limits. Anyway, next up, we head to London to deal with Spurs. Maybe. Many people on Twitter have commented about the uneasy feeling that was floating around Anfield tonight; much like the game against Atleti in March of 2020 before the first lockdown. My expectations are not high. Here’s hoping that Omicron hasn’t spread among the rest of the squad and that Virg, Curtis Jones, and Fab all make it back without incident. I’m going to be getting on a plane around the time the match wraps up on Sunday and will hopefully be back to see an actual match at Magee’s on Boxing Day. See you soon. Hopefully.