Vanilla kit. Vanilla game.*

*(Title by Mike Danelia.)

I often have a hard time with titles. Sometimes they just hit you over the head and you’re like: “Yeah. That’s obvious.” because some event during the match is the key talking point. But in other cases like, say, a game against Burnley at Turf Moor in the English version of a monsoon so everything looks sloppy and disorganized, it’s not so obvious to come up with something that properly encapsulates what we’ve seen. So, Mike insisted as I walked out the door of Thomas Magee’s (Decent crowd. Where were the rest of you?) that the above should be the proper description of a grinding (Against Burnley? Surprise!) match that eventually left us with a 1-0 win that produces a cosmic shrug at the inevitability of it all. Burnley is likely making their long-awaited return to the Championship and we had to slug it out in the rain to get the three points that are essential for us to make any kind of title challenge right through to the end of the season. Business as usual.

Part of it is that it was a match against Burnley, the club that has benefited more than any other from the “They’re just good English lads!” perspective of many at PGMOL. Part of it is that the particular member of PGMOL that was overseeing this match was Martin Atkinson, who typically won’t blow the whistle for almost anything that doesn’t produce blood. And part of it is just playing in February at Turf Moor, with the weather living up to every stereotype possible about northwest England. Almost the only thing that produced any sense of excitement was the linesmen’s collective unwillingness to raise the flag when they see that someone is five yards offside. The commentators on both networks we watched at Magee’s kept prattling on about the “clear chances” that Burnley were getting, all of which were obviously offside (seven calls for the match, in total) and which should’ve been blown dead before they even approached the box and made Alisson work for his wage. There were comments floating around Twitter about how Alisson was man-of-the-match and, no mistake, he did play well (7/10 on long passes today, which is high even for him.) But most of the time he was called into action to produce something of significance were moments where the play should’ve been blown dead 20 yards before. And this, of course, doesn’t even mention the obvious penalty call on Wout Weghorst against Mo Salah that both Atkinson and VAR Darren England somehow didn’t make. England was also on VAR the last time Mo didn’t get an obvious penalty call… three days ago against Leicester. Nothing to see here.

Speaking of Weghorst, it has to be said that he was easily the most appropriate signing of the entire winter window. He’s a supremely average forward, despite his massive size, which fits Burnley, and he’s a competitive bastard on the pitch, which also fits Burnley. Everything about this match, from the weather to the result, was about as stereotypically Turf Moor as you can get. Here’s hoping that this is the last trip we have to take there for quite some time.

Burnley 0 – 1 Liverpool

I have discovered in the last few days that Michael Caley is actually moving house and tweeted today that he’d begin posting diagrams in the next few days once he settles in a bit. Until then, we work with Understat. I think this formula of xG may be favoring them a bit (xG Philosophy had it 0.86 to 2.18, for example), but it is true that we only outshot them, 12-8, and they actually got more shots on target, 5-4. One interesting note of contrast, considering the way that Burnley play the game (Should that phrase be in what the English call “inverted apostrophes”?) was a comparison of PPDA, which is passes per defensive action, for those of you who don’t clutter your heads with these numbers every match. It means how many passes were allowed by the opposition before a defensive action (challenge, interception, foul, etc.) was made by your side. For Burnley, it was 13.63; meaning that LFC made almost 14 passes, on average, before Burnley challenged for the ball. For Liverpool, it was 8.10. Now, granted, a certain amount of that gap is created by the Clarets ceding possession to us (67% for the game), as they are also wont to do. But it’s still kind of funny to be “out-defending” a club like Burnley. Part of that example was set by a sterling effort from Naby Keita.

That’s a midfielder stat line, yo. Four of those five tackles came in the first half, where he had the most of anyone on the pitch and that one shot wasn’t a goal because of Nick Pope’s best save of the day, as he dove to get an arm in front of a nicely-curling effort by Naby that was otherwise the opener for the match. This is yet another glimpse of the Naby we’re always hoping to see on the regular. On the other hand, the model of consistency is Virgil Van Dijk.

Again, Mr. Appropriate (Weghorst) was signed by Burnley because they needed a replacement for Chris Wood as a target man. Weghorst, in some ways, makes an even better one because he’s even larger than Wood is. But even big strikers can’t deal with the best CB duo in the league and, probably, world. They’re the key to maintaining that high line that kept catching the Clarets offside. There’ve been some questions about Virg on his recovery from the devastating knee injury of last season. I think he’s answered them all and is back to where he was as the best defender on the planet. (And still cheaper than Harry Maguire!) Of course, it also helps to have the best #6 on the planet standing in front of him.

His scoring form is hilarious (5 goals in 2022; Erling Haaland only has 4) but it’s his play in the middle of the pitch that makes him who he is. He’s the perfect team player, which is why that goal was, appropriately, a team effort, with Trent Alexander-Arnold’s excellent delivery flicked on by Sadio Mané’s smart header, to fall in front of Fabinho who had the presence of mind to follow-up his first effort when Pope knocked it back to him. That set piece goal is also Liverpool’s 14th of the PL season, which leads the league.

Fab and Naby’s performances also draw an unfortunate contrast to the third member of our starting trio in midfield, Captain Jordan Henderson. It’s safe to say that Hendo has had a few lackluster performances in the last few games and this one was the worst of the lot. He was only 50% on pass completion and turned the ball over on 24 of his 48 touches(!) In comparison, Naby lost the ball on 5 of his 44. It’s the third time this season that Hendo has had less than 60% retention when challenged for the ball. He reportedly had a back problem after the Leicester match and that may have contributed to his overall play. The contrast with Thiago Alcãntara when he came on to replace Hendo was stark. Where before, Burnley had been challenging us in the middle third, when Thiago came on he basically locked the game down and enabled us to close it out by dominating possession even more than we had been and making a couple of his usual smart passes into the final third to keep the Clarets pinned back.

So, yeah, in Latin we’d say: Venimus Vidimus Relinquentes (“We came. We saw. We left.”) as only a 1-0 win at Turf Moor can be described. Things get a bit more exciting on Wednesday at the San Siro, where we encounter Serie A-leading Inter Milan and then the PL soldiers on when the Canaries come calling at Anfield on Saturday.

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