Back in ye olde medieval days, when the enemy was attacking your castle, to relieve the pressure you’d often engage in what was known as a “sortie.” This is a French word that literally means “a going out.” You’d open a side gate and send out a significant force to disrupt the enemy’s lines and maybe even push them back from your walls and try to change the face of the conflict. It all depended on what tactical goal you had in mind and, often, what the resistance of the enemy looked like. This is an oblique reference to what happened today around the 60th minute of the match against Inter.
We had set up with Fabinho, Thiago Alcãntara, and Harvey Elliott in midfield and were using our typical staged approach to push the attack. This was not going so well against Inter’s 3-5-2. We certainly weren’t on the back foot, but they spent a lot of the match giving as well as they got. It was too up in the air for Jürgen Klopp’s liking (and, in truth, the rest of us, as well) and so he made a change in that tactical goal. In sortie terms, instead of trying to attack in sequence against their midfield, he decided to try to run them out of gas by making them chase runners in the channels, rather than in our usual wide spaces. For that, he needed both offensive intent (Captain Jordan Henderson), more control (Naby Keita), and a bit more speed (Luis Díaz.) 15 minutes later, we had our first result, as Roberto Firmino (subbed on at the half for Diogo Jota’s swollen ankle) put a glancing header past Samir Handanovic. It was our first shot on target.
All of that skirmishing took place in front of the indomitable wall that was Virgil Van Dijk and Ibrahima Konaté. Inter certainly took their chances and Ivan Perišic was, as he has been in every Inter game I’ve seen in the past few years (when he wasn’t on loan(?) at Bayern), a primary threat down the left side. But from nice footwork to evade Lautaro Martinez (Ibra) to running down Edin Dzeko (Virg) on one end to heading a ball out of the air in front of Mo Salah (Virg) and getting out of the way of that ball (Ibra) on the other, both CBs were indomitable. Virg walked off with the MotM award, but it easily could have been Ibra, as neither of them put a foot out of place the whole time. That meant our walls were sturdy and it was just about changing the approach of our sortie to push the besiegers back and eventually win the battle. How’s that for medieval metaphors? That goal for Mo also made him only the second player in the CL era to score against both AC Milan and Inter in the same season after Crouchie, although he did it for Spurs. And due credit to the Italian side: Inter were quite good at what they wanted to do. There’s a reason they’re contesting the Serie A title again, even without the significant players that they lost over the summer. In particular, Stefan De Vrij was primarily responsible for Inter not losing by 4 or 5, given the number of breakaways that he stopped with solo efforts. But with no shots on target and an xG of less than .5, those on Twitter suggesting that we “scraped by” or something similarly inane are stretching, at best.
Speaking of not understanding what they’re seeing and before we get to the numbers, a note about Hendo: The captain has been taking a lot of stick from so-called Liverpool fans lately because, without doubt, he’s had a poor run of games. That will happen. But there’s no doubt that his entry into this one was part of the transformation of that sortie. It was odd to see Fabinho come out when he, as always, was one of our best players, but there’s also no doubt that Hendo tends to push the ball forward from the 6 a bit more than Fab does, who’s more measured in his approach. Hendo rallied the troops, pushed past Inter’s determination to clog up the middle with their trios of CBs and midfielders, and changed the face of this game (44 successful passes in 30 minutes; more than Thiago, Fab, or Harvey.) That’s what a captain does. He certainly had help with Naby’s superior control to Harvey’s, uh, youthful exuberance and with Luis providing a bit more of a threat in the deeper areas of the pitch around Inter’s goal. But the captain is still here and is still crucial to our success because of matches just like tonight. Too many people forget that as soon as they see his name in place of Thiago’s or Naby’s on the teamsheet. Which is about as many people that, after six damn years, still don’t seem to understand what Bob does for this team other than, for example, making more tackles (4) than any other player for us while only playing the second half. But that list could go on and I’m shifting gears here.
Internazionale 0 – 2 Liverpool
That xG is even more of a gulf in other spots (Infogol had it at .4 to 1.48.) And again referencing the excellent CBs, Caley’s comment on this one was that the low xG total was based more on superior CB play than it was a lack of action (like, say, in some other match that happened. Yesterday. In Paris.) Clearly, Inter was set up to try to stymie what we do, more than emphasize what they do. That’s a neat summary of Italian football, in most cases (Atalanta being the glaring exception.) The weird thing was that, at least for the first half hour, they didn’t really try to deny us the wide spaces, which is kind of a creative outlet for us (I’d like to introduce you to Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. They’re supposed to be fullbacks.) We had all kinds of space there and their wingbacks were just filling the box. But as the game dragged on, they started to close both Trent and Andy down quickly with a wingback and one of the three center-mids. The theme of the match for about 75 minutes was us losing possession every time we passed the ball into the center when they would tackle from behind and take it or the ball bouncing off someone for a throw when they closed down those wide spaces. That… was annoying. It’s the hardest we’ve been pressed for quite a while and they were very good at it. But there aren’t really many teams in Europe that can keep up with us for the full 90 and, eventually, y’know…
That was yet another goal from a set piece. We are the leaders in all of Europe for goals from set pieces at the moment and the work has clearly paid off. Jürgen said that that routine was something we worked on yesterday, as Peter Krawietz and his analyst team had identified a weakness in Inter’s setup and we exploited it. We also nearly converted on one in the first half that Sadio Mané was unable to keep down. Sadio, in fact, is usually the guy that comes forward in that role for the glancing header aiming for the far post and Bob executed it perfectly. Part of it, of course, is that Inter (and other sides) are always aware of the threat of our moving wall.
Killin’ it. That rundown of Dzeko was as hilarious as it always is because we’re still all in awe that someone that big can move that fast and watching the same realization come over the attacking player’s face is always a treat. But he wasn’t alone.
The depth! The deeeeeppppth! Joel Matip was on the bench. So was Joe Gomez. But there was almost nothing that either of them could’ve done better. It’s always hilarious to see other sides clearly shift their approach away from Virg and figure that they’ll have more luck on the left side. It’s like the Gauls trying the weak spot of the counter-vallation at Alesia. (No, really. It kinda is. I know that most of you have no idea what that is, but trust me.) But they have no hope no matter whom we put out there.
Back to Anfield in three weeks with a two goal lead is a good thing. There’s a bunch of people (among them miserable Nerrazzurri fans) saying that they have no hope now. I wouldn’t exactly go that far, but the tie is certainly in our hands. But this weekend, the Canaries come to Merseyside. I have no idea what to expect. They seem better under Dean Smith, but that bar was set pretty low. It’ll be interesting for us ‘Mericans to see how Josh Sargent is getting along, I guess? Meanwhile, here’s Joel getting in on the celebration and getting a deathglare from the captain: