Hat tricks are a relatively rare phenomenon. In the major team sport where scoring is probably the least frequent of all of them, it’s to be expected. That’s why the scorer of one usually gets the game ball as a memorial of that achievement. Perfect hat tricks (a goal scored with both feet and the head) are even rarer. Most forwards favor one foot or the other and not all of them are as adept with their heads, so managing that feat is something that’s usually going to be remembered by more than just the supporters of the clubs that won and lost. However, I have to say that, try as I might, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Perfect Woodwork hat trick (right foot off the left post, left foot off the right post, header off the crossbar), if ever. As good as Inter were, the main impediment to our putting the tie to bed was the immobile goal frame, which also made it even more frustrating that the better team (the one who had most of the ball, the one with the combined xG across the tie of 3.1 to the opponent’s 0.7, the one that most assumed would win even before the tie was played) will be the one that many pundits will be happy to declare “lucky” to be moving on to the quarterfinals, despite all of the evidence, visual and statistical, that says otherwise. Those are the ones who’ve been tut-tutting about how “Liverpool’s high line is a weakness that other teams can take advantage of”, even while we’ve been playing that same strategy for four years, have racked up a record number of points in the Premier League with that “weakness”, and currently have an offside trap with a total of 116 calls (next closest is Manchester City with 68.)
Why does what these fools are saying bother me? It doesn’t, really; anymore than losing a match while we still move on to the next round. Yes, I’d have liked to win it to keep some of our streaks going, but it’s the end result that matters and we’re still on course to reach that end. Similarly, it will be amusing at the end of the season to see some of them do a retrospective if we do win another trophy or two about how “remarkably skilled” this squad is with zero shame, while along the way the words they used were “lucky”, “vulnerable”, and “inconsistent.” We just lost our first match of calendar year 2022 and yet somehow all of those words are applied without a moment’s further consideration. It’s tempting to replace all of them with the word “agenda”, but I try not to step in those mud pits most of the time. It’s too easy to end up with that mud on your face when something goes awry. For example, we regularly complain about the quality of PL officiating, with good reason, but tonight’s official, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, whom you may remember ejecting Pep Guardiola at halftime of our 2-1 second leg victory in the quarterfinals in 2018, does not work in the PL. He works in La Liga and tonight was probably the worst officiating performance I’ve seen from a non-PL ref at Anfield in a long time.
He had nothing to do with the woodwork, but he did allow the match to progress to a level where injury was a serious possibility. Then when he finally decided to try to regain control of it, cards that should have been handed out earlier came in a flurry and two of them dropped on the head of Alexis Sanchez, changing the tone of the match for good and cementing the idea that Liverpool were “lucky” in the heads of the ignorant. Speaking of ignorant: Newsflash- If you lunge studs-up for the ball and hit someone, you are engaging in reckless play and will/should be carded. That’s why the rule exists, no matter how ill-applied. It doesn’t matter if you “got the ball(!!!)” It doesn’t matter if the opposing player got there after you did. You lunged with your studs in a position to hit someone else with them. That’s a foul and you should be carded for it, no matter what the morons on Reddit might opine. Sanchez should’ve seen red for the same action against Thiago Alcãntara in the first half. The fact that he didn’t get sent off until an hour was gone was just a measure of how badly Lahoz was performing up to that point. When he decided to actually use his whistle and began responding to Inter’s attempts to flop their way down the field, the match degenerated that much further.
This game was promoted as one of those legendary European nights at Anfield because we were playing Inter Milan. In the end, it turned out to be eminently forgettable because of frustration, the best defender being three pieces of wood, and poor officiating. Inter might go home frustrated at not being able to pull off a memorable comeback. Jürgen said our players were not happy in the dressing room, which is understandable, given that they lost the match and didn’t play particularly well. But, in the end, they, like us, are left to just shrug our shoulders and wait a week-and-a-half to find out who’s next. It’s certainly not what anyone had hoped for, in either direction, but that’s how the game works (or not) sometimes.
Liverpool 0 – 1 Internazionale Milan
A quick glance at the above diagram should be all that the aforementioned pundits need to produce something that comports with reality about this game. That will not happen. The two shots right outside the 6-yard box were the headers from Joel Matip and Virgil Van Dijk; the former hit the crossbar, the latter rebounded off Milan Skriniar. The two farther outside the box were the ones that hit their respective posts. The one inside the box was Luis Diaz’s attempt that got intercepted by Arturo Vidal. Due credit to the latter for making a great defensive play (which Skriniar also persisted in doing throughout the match, just like two weeks ago), but on any other night, at least one of those goes in, if not more. That’s football.
Just like at the San Siro, Inter largely muted their attacking options in order to win the battles in the middle third, which they often did. They camped out on our passing lanes and/or made short, quick runs into them in order to disrupt our rhythm. But that also meant that they were wholly reliant upon wingbacks Ivan Perisic and Denzel Dumfries to produce something from the wide areas. Unlike two weeks ago, this time Trent Alexander-Arnold was even better at shutting things down on his side and Andy Roberston remained just as good with Dumfries. That’s how you end up with an xG of 0.47, despite ” constantly threatening Liverpool’s high line(!!!)” The other way to look at it is that Inter sold out to stop our attack from flowing through midfield and we still ended up with the best chances of the evening and twice the number of shots. That’s not how you’re going to be successful, but clearly they had decided to live on the counter and try to push for extra time or something like that. This tweet
has even more fancystat confirmation of whom the better team was. That’s “better team over the defending champions of Italy who are two points off the top again, with a game in hand”, by the way. Saying that Liverpool were “lucky” isn’t just a disservice to us. But speaking of memes:
You can add winning 5/6 ground duels and completing 6 crosses into that pile of numbers. But he can’t defend-! I wait breathlessly for the assertions by people like Barry Glendening that Perisic will be giving Trent nightmares for weeks or some such thing. Or for those people who question his level of play in the same way they will that of
the still best player in the world, even without the goals. 4/5 dribbles! While typically having two or more guys on him, like usual. (I think the bottom line is supposed to be “tackles.”) Again, the most effective defender on the night were the immobile posts. Wait. Did someone say “effective defender”?
Hold on! Mo had more tackles than Virg! Yes. That’s the point of being a great defender and there’s no clearer acknowledgment of that than seeing Lautaro Martinez give up on racing for a ball with Virg again:
This one was a bit more obvious than in Milan because the ball was farther ahead of Martinez, but it’s still funny to see a striker so quickly abandon the chase when he sees whom he’s competing with.
Alrighty, then. Annoying Brighton is on tap for Saturday at the Amex. The makeup with Arsenal (delayed for the League Cup final) comes a week from tomorrow at the Emirates. And then we visit the City Ground for the first time in 23 years to take on Forest in the FA Cup. The last time we did that with them was 33 years ago. Havin’ flashbacks…