The evidence belies the theory

There are a number of scientific theories that make sense but which can’t be proven on the evidence presented. One of these is dark matter. Accepted theories of gravity tells us that the universe has more mass than is immediately visible. Galaxies would fly apart if there weren’t a much greater gravitational force holding them together. That implies that there’s a lot of mass out there creating that gravity which simply isn’t visible to us. But, since it’s invisible, there’s also no way to prove that it actually exists. So it’s either our theories of gravity are wrong, despite being proved correct in a number of other scenarios, or dark matter is real and we just haven’t figured out a way to discern it. It’s right there in front of our eyes, but we can’t see it.

Jürgen Klopp’s argument since he’s been in the Premier League has been that the schedule is too punishing for players and that the game suffers as a result. For the most part, I agree with him. There’s too much football. It’s been one of my arguments for dispensing with the WITSBP cup and rejoining the rest of Europe (No Brexit!) with a single national cup competition. However, one thing that seems inescapable in the time since Jürgen has been managing our club is that, despite his assertion that our overall play is poorer without sufficient recovery time, it seems like every time we play after a significant layoff or break in the grinding schedule of the league, we don’t play as well as we had been before the break. Now, there’s no debate that Jürgen is correct in the broader sense. Pro athletes, like anyone, will perform better with enough time to rest between exertions. But this is where the evidence belies the theory because Liverpool seems to excel precisely when they have to play game after game after game.

Indeed, it’s funny to cite the WITSBP cup here because it was this same Leicester side that was turned over by Liverpool’s C squad in that competition six days ago with a remarkable display of determination and focus that the Foxes couldn’t withstand. In that match, Jürgen’s smart halftime substitutions made all the difference. And yet, despite Leicester having played league-leading Manchester City just 48 hours before our visit to the King Power, they came out on top in this match against Liverpool’s A squad, with LFC’s subs amounting to basically no change in play whatsoever. Our xG for this match was 2.53, but Mo Salah’s first penalty miss since 2017 and Sadio Mané’s squandering of an easy chance and Kasper Schmeichel’s performance in goal were enough to deny the Reds the three points we so desperately needed. That’s five points that have been dropped in the last two matches, bringing us to six behind City. I’m not normally one for portents of doom but, even in December, that’s an awful lot of ground to make up behind a side that can field two complete PL XIs and shows no sign of slowing down.

For much of this season, the theory has been that this side is one of the best in Europe and one of the best in Liverpool’s long and storied history. 50 goals scored in the league halfway through the season for the first time in that history is testament to that. But it’s also a side that seems incapable of functioning at the machine-like level that its main competitor has reached. Points dropped to sides like Brentford, Brighton, and now Leicester would seem to indicate that there’s something lacking when it comes to competing for top honors. That’s where the theory (“best side in Europe”) is belied by the evidence (“Possibly already out of the race for the league title in December.”) On the other hand, the suggestion that they’ve been failing to succeed might also be belied by the evidence of certain environmental factors: The PL is the best league in the world. Almost no one gets through a season undefeated (City has two losses, as well.) Football is just funny like that sometimes. In the same way that you can’t really criticize a side this good for having low moments, you can’t really suggest that the race is over halfway through. There’s also the evidence that LFC mauled their Champions League group when it comes to determining “best in Europe” (literally, kinda.) But it certainly brings up questions about where we go from here. Will we play better when we’re playing every three days between the FA Cup and the CL in the winter? Haven’t we already played some amazing football this season? This is what happens when you start questioning the nature of the universe…

Leicester 1 – 0 Liverpool

That diagram is the story of both the game and the immense frustration felt by both players and fans of Liverpool. We essentially dominated this match without playing especially well. As Jürgen noted, he wasn’t particularly happy with our play in the first half, and the second half simply fell apart. Dominating possession but conceding from the first and only shot on target and losing by one goal to an inferior opponent sounds a lot like last winter when we went into a tailspin. We had 34 touches in Leicester’s box in just the first half, the most we’ve had in a league game this entire calendar year, and came up with nothing. This was against a squad with no available senior centerbacks (Sound familiar?) I mean, this…

This is just absurd. It also ends 2021 in the same way we started it, by failing to score in an away match for the first time in 28 such matches. Despite that domination, Jürgen is right in that we didn’t play that well and there isn’t really anyone to point to for a successful outing other than Joel Matip:

And that was just on defense and just the first half. His ventures forward once again showed off his remarkable dribbling skill for a guy that big who’s normally at CB. He also displayed his excellent passing prowess, feeding balls into the final third or right into the box repeatedly to no success on the part of his teammates. Again, sometimes football is just like that.

The Sadio problem. So there’s no disguising the fact that Sadio is having some issues. He’s currently in the midst of his longest goal involvement drought as a Liverpool player (nine games in all competitions.) His point blank miss at Leicester was perhaps the neatest summation of that problem that could be had. Has he declined from his form of a couple seasons ago? Yes. Is he still an excellent forward? Yes. Does he still do the work that Jürgen asks in every corner of the field to both cover the back line and create chances for his teammates? Yes. But we already have one member of the front line who’s first responsibility isn’t to score and that’s Roberto Firmino. Despite his brilliance, we can’t shovel all of the responsibility on to Mo Salah nor can we expect that Diogo Jota will always be there to pick up the slack, even if they are #s 1 and 2 for goals in the PL right now. And it feels ridiculous to say this because… 50 goals! In 19 matches! But something probably has to change for Sadio and soon.

Alright, so that’s a very abbreviated report from a game that took place three days ago because I wasn’t very inspired and because I’ve been remodeling part of a kitchen. So, yeah. Sunday is do or die against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and we have COVID ripping through the squad, which rumors say means no Bob or Takumi Minamino, and key midfielder, Thiago Alcãntara, is also out with an injury. Again. Yay.

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