The Judgment of Solomon is supposed to be about wisdom, in which a king hewed to an impassive interpretation of the law in order to discover the truth of the matter before him. In the story from Kings in the Tanakh, two women are claiming to be the mother of a child, so Solomon declares that the child should be cut in two, with half given to each woman. The liar agrees with the idea, while the actual mother begs him to not do so and simply give the child to the liar so that it will live. We must have been in the presence of two people with similar towering wisdom when we watched Brighton keeper, Robert Sánchez, attempt to bisect (or at least decapitate) Luis Diaz as he approached the goal. Mike Dean on the pitch and Stuart Atwell as VAR both apparently decided that, since Luis had scored, the most obvious of red cards (forceful contact, playing the man instead of the ball, extending both arm (to head) and leg (to chest) to make said contact (i.e. He was actually attempting to strike his opponent, which means there was intent involved, just to intercept the dumbest typical excuse usually proffered)) wasn’t necessary. A clear and blatant foul anywhere on the pitch, keeper or no, wasn’t worthy of a red card because, y’know, the ball did roll into the net, after all. All good, then, amirite?!
There are few things that unify Redditors, football commentators, and studio hosts as much as blatant officiating mistakes. Even then, you usually have the contrarians who like to bring up little details, often wholly disconnected from both reality and rules (like “intent”), to suggest that everyone else is overreacting. After the last hour plus of looking, I have yet to find a single person suggesting that Sanchez’s action was worthy of any response but a straight red card. It’s not a VAR problem. It’s not an English football problem. It’s not an interpretation problem. It’s an officiating problem and, too often, the quality of the officiating turns the most popular and most watched league in the world into a joke. We’ve already seen multiple instances of it this year alone (Rodri handball against Everton, etc.) But in this instance it goes beyond arguments about someone’s shoulder or arm or what the intent was of the play. You can’t even do what Sanchez did in rugby- union or league -without getting penalized. And, yet, seemingly because Liverpool scored, all crimes are wiped away. Or, at least, that’s the best suggestion I can make about why such an obvious case of foul play was dismissed; simply because nothing else even vaguely reasonable comes to mind.
And, honestly, I don’t want to be writing about absurd officiating decisions. I don’t want the prevailing image and memory of this match to be about how it was possible that two different officials looked at that play and shrugged their shoulders. I’d rather be talking about Luis’ superb play and MotM performance. I’d rather be talking about Mo Salah scoring the 2000th goal for us in the PL. I’d rather be talking about Brighton having turned into Burnley, Jr., grabbing and hip-checking their way into the realm of “those clubs you’d rather not play at all because you don’t want your guys to come away with injuries.” For that matter, in recent weeks, Burnley has actually been playing better-looking football than Brighton has. I’d rather be talking about anything other than how the match officials in the Premier League aren’t competent to do the job that they’re being asked to do. But that’s the inescapable conclusion that we’re coming to and that’s what starts to color both individual matches and the title race itself. Most aren’t going to remember anything about the score or the play of this match. They’re going to remember the absurd non-call and how it was every bit as ludicrous as Solomon’s ruling, but unfortunately without the subversive wisdom to go with it.
Brighton 0 – 2 Liverpool
Being blunt, this was not our greatest performance of the season. I think there were some fatigue issues present, which is normal for this time of year and for being involved in as many competitions as we still are, and that’s before you could see that Luis was dead on his feet for the last five minutes of the contest. All the same, that xG difference pretty much defines the difference in quality between the two squads. Yes, breathless commentators, Brighton did have a couple chances and Alisson Becker did have to make one nice save (now tied with Ederson atop the PL for clean sheets) and one nifty retention of the ball in his hands at the corner of the penalty box. It doesn’t mean that Liverpool were ever significantly threatened. I get the feeling that so many people have become so accustomed to Manchester City’s suffocating, onerous control that any time the other club competing with them atop the table lets someone get over the midfield line, it has to be interpreted as a “threat” of some kind. In the end, that’s just football, especially against a side that isn’t afraid to move the ball forward, thank whatever higher power you choose to commit to. The fact that Brighton is now fouling like a Burnley doesn’t mean they have to fully adopt the model.
There were a fair number of missed passes in this one. Indeed, once we’d decided to just clamp down and leave the ball to Brighton in the second half, they ended up completing more of them for the match than we did. But the networks didn’t change radically in those last 15 minutes. Most of our offense was still going through Trent Alexander-Arnold in the passing game.
The left side is a little different, given that both Andy Robertson and Luis are fond of simply carrying the ball forward (as you can see above for Luis) and whomever is in that left side role in midfield tends to take the recycler approach, which Naby Keita did quite well with. It was an interesting shift of our usual game management mode late in the match, in which the normal course of action is to possess the ball as much as possible. In this case, because of Brighton’s frenetic pressing, we weren’t able to do that as well and they actually ended up with a majority of possession (52-48%) by the end of the match. Regardless, it was three points and the star of the show was definitely the new kid.
You can add 1/2 dribbles and 1/2 aerial duels, plus an interception, to that overall picture. He was a little light on the passing (25/33; 76%) but, again, that seemed to be the theme of the day and due credit to Brighton for making it more difficult. But, again, look at that threat creation by carry. Almost unstoppable. Plus, we should talk about the assister.
That’s Premier League player-of-the-month for February Joel Matip, to you. His adventures have gone from being the occasional bright spot to an actual serious part of our offensive scheme and it’s hilarious seeing sides who still don’t take it seriously. Of course, it’s difficult for most midfielders to leave people like Naby and Captain Jordan Henderson to engage the wandering giraffe but, if they don’t, he makes things happen. It’s not easy being the star at CB when you’re playing alongside Virgil Van Dijk
but Joel is making the case. It’s great to see that, five years after his free transfer from Schalke, he’s not only remained an important cog in our machine, but also has continued to advance his game. Similarly, it was somehow fitting that the 2000th PL goal was put in by Mo
as that not only further cements his place in Liverpool history, but also does so in PL history, since he joins Alan Shearer, Sergio Aguero, Thierry Henry, Harry Kane, and Rudd van Nistelrooy as the only players to have scored 20+ in at least four different seasons. It’s worth noting that, of those 2000 goals, Sadio Mané and Mo have together scored 10% of them. Just to further reinforce that xG difference above, Mo and Luis had 20 touches in the opposing box today. all of Brighton had 14. But, y’know, the high line is a weakness and all that.
So, we’re at the Emirates on Wednesday to make up the missed match for the WITSBP cup final. After that, it’s a time-traveling trip to the City Ground, and then a weekend off(?!) before hosting The Hodgson and his Hornets (band name!), unless they rearrange the ManU game again. Meanwhile, let’s all watch the daring header and completely, totally non-red card play again: