Striding forward like a giraffe

Hmmmm… What? Oh! Hello, there! Come in! Come in! Sit down here and let’s talk a bit about the legend of the False 32. Yes, indeed, the False 32! He was a real thing, even if I’ve labeled him a “legend.” Some legends have a foundation in reality and what could be more real than the greatest central attacking defender- the best centerback forward -to ever play for Liverpool? No, really. People still speak in hushed tones about the give-and-go with another forward that exposed the False 32 to even greater glory than he’d already earned.

Do you remember that? Oh, I know. The tale grows bigger in the telling, right? But you can’t get much bigger than the False 32 already was; literally and figuratively. Yes, yes, yes. That was a glorious time…

Sorry… Little interlude there. Did anything else happen today?

Right. What did happen was Jürgen Klopp’s biggest home Premier League win of his seven-year tenure. The fact that it came against injury-ridden Leeds who’ve been beaten in this manner twice in one season only once before in their history (1934) is a testament both to how many problems they’re having and just how good this Liverpool side is right now. At the beginning of January, after taking an irritating 2-2 draw at Chelsea, we were 11 points back of league leaders Manchester City. We’re now 3 points back after six straight league wins and have won every cup match we’ve played this season with a final coming on Sunday. We have two minor injuries on the squad (Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino), which might be resolved by Sunday, and have begun dropping capable players, not just to the bench, but off the match squad entirely for the past few games. This has resulted in the same people that whined about squad depth to begin whining about so-and-so superstar player not getting game time and being willing to pull up stakes and leave in the summer. But that’s the problem of those people, who will never be happy. In total contrast to the sane of us, this is a time to appreciate what this squad has done and is continuing to do.

What that means is that, on matchday 26, we’ve equaled the scoring output of all of last season (106 goals.) We have the three leading scorers in the Premier League: Mo Salah (19), Diogo Jota (12), Sadio Mané (11.) We have the three leading assisters in the Premier League: Mo Salah (10), Trent Alexander-Arnold (10), Andy Robertson (9.) Our keeper (Alisson Becker) is tied for first for clean sheets in the Premier League (14.) What all of that adds up to is: “Some good” and you could say that even if our wandering centerback didn’t chip in an absolute striker’s finish after a killer pass from Mo (who had three or four more of those in this match alone.) We’re playing at an extremely high level right now and not just because we all feel like we’re floating at the level of Joel Matip’s hairline.

And the absurd thing is that, despite that high level and on-pitch success, there will be no letup from this point forward. That level has to be maintained or it’s over for us in every competition we’re playing. Yes, it’s just Norwich in the FA Cup, but let off the gas and you’re out. Yes, we’re two goals up against Inter and they have to come to Anfield. But it’s still the Champions League and we’ve seen leads like that slip away. And then there’s the league… I’ve talked often about the ludicrous money that oil states like Man City’s owners have brought into the game and their apparent need to still keep cheating even with the obvious financial advantages that they already have. But this is the world we live in so there’s nothing to do but get on with it. Now that we have a squad whose depth rivals City’s and are in a good spot, injury-wise, and have everyone motivated and focused and clearly on the same page every time a foot is placed on the turf, we can think again about how some of the goals that we might’ve written off in previous seasons or even in this one might be well within our reach. The reach of a giraffe even.

Liverpool 6 – 0 Leeds United

Yeah, that image is kind of a joke. I mean, it’s not like we were playing Norwich… Except, yeah, it kinda was like we were playing Norwich, since the majority of Leeds’ squad is still probably Championship-level and they’ve been reduced to using more of that squad than they’d like because of the torrent of injuries that they’ve had. This, again, hearkens back to the vast gulf in both talent and money between the top two divisions in English football which is a rabbit hole I will not be going down at the moment, thankyouAlice. It’s tempting to say that Marcelo Bielsa has been “found out” by the other clubs, but there are normally many other factors that go into why a team is successful and why they’re not. But I say “normally” because Bielsa’s approach is, shall we say, unitary. He has a way of playing and that’s how Leeds play. Most notably in today’s match is his stipulation that all defense is done by man-marking; no zonal play. That’s great if you have the athletes to do it and, by and large, Leeds do, since they run more than anyone else in the league, when they’re not riven by injuries. But it also makes them horribly susceptible to approaches like ours, which stresses the ability of every player to move to every part of the pitch and do the job that that spot requires (like, say, centerbacks carrying the ball forward…) What that means is that Leeds’ players have their guy marked and follow them, which allows us to drag them out of any kind of defensive shape and create openings to exploit. We scored six. It easily could’ve been 10, not least through the efforts of the best player in the world right now:

That’s insane, but almost what you’d expect from one of the best attackers in the league going up against one of its worst defenses. But it’s not just Leeds. Mo has now scored more goals than anyone else in the league has goals and assists, combined. That’s also at least 10 goals and 10 assists in three different seasons, putting him alongside names like Cantona, Lampard, and Drogba in the PL era. It also doesn’t highlight the work he does off the ball, which is considerable, or even the hockey assists that he regularly racks up. You saw the pass above to Joel. The one he delivers to Captain Jordan Henderson for Sadio’s first goal is even better:

Just insane. But speaking of work off the ball, we can’t ignore the fellow AFCON finalist (and, uh, winner):

Again, work off the ball often doesn’t show up and Sadio is renowned for bashing away in the middle of the pitch to gain access to the ball and then holding on to it when he does get it. All those passes you see Virg making that look like he’s sending it into a lone, red flame in the midst of a sea of white? That’s usually when that red flame burns the whites to a cinder (hey, I just made a Russian Civil War joke which is unfortunately somewhat appropo for current events…) and comes out of that seemingly tough spot with that ball. Also, take note: eighth straight season in double figures in the PL. But that’s a clean sheet, too, right?

Two goals for Mo. Two goals for Sadio. Two goals for the centerbacks. Normal day at the shops, eh? Most people still think Virgil Van Dijk is the best centerback in the world, but it’s worth noting that Joel has been right there next to him, stats-wise and performance-wise. This is why Joe Gomez has been getting dropped from the matchday squad (as he was today) because our free transfer from Schalke six years ago is also among the best centerbacks in the world. And now that we’re talking about people who’ve been missing from the matchday squad, it’s worth talking about CuJo:

He’s had some rough spots since his season got disrupted by his eye injury, but this was a great indication of his skill level. There were a couple moments of trying to do too much, both probably because he’s trying to show his form after not making the squad for a couple games and because he’s still only 20 years old. But he also had many other moments of frankly excellent play. The fact that he was doing so in the shadow of two of our best midfielders (Thiago Alcãntara and Fabinho) makes it even more impressive. The competition to even get a space on the bench these days is fierce and that can only mean good things going forward.

Also, a brief side note on officiating: We now have 9 penalties in our last 80 games, right after people across the media and the Interwebs were pointing out the ridiculous disparity between LFC and City in that respect, despite similar styles of play. This kind of response happens so regularly, you’d be very tempted to call it a conspiracy of some kind but, again, rabbit holes not to be entered. Football is a random game. So, unfortunately, is officiating.

Alrighty, then. WITSBP cup final, ahoy! Yes, it’s a trophy that I’m more likely to refer to as “hardware”, rather than “silverware”, but it’s a trophy, so whatevs. Chelsea fans are in the midst of bemoaning their own injury crisis, wherein they’ve lost 80 games to injury/illness this season. My response: At this same point last year, we’d lost 140 games and you guys mocked us for being the worst defending champions of the modern era or summat. Once that’s done, we’re back at Anfield for the Return of the Nerazzurri and the Super-threatening Offense of No Shots on Target (That’s almost an Ed Wood film title.)

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