Halftime serenity

My girlfriend’s daughter said something to me a few years ago that I found extremely funny. She said: “You’re the most laid back person I’ve ever met.” Said girlfriend immediately responded with: “You’ve never seen him in front of a Liverpool game.” I thought it was funny because being laid back had never really been part of my personality until about a decade ago. At that point, I went through a long period of trauma/introspection and came out the other side with a few changes and they hadn’t really occurred to me until she mentioned them. And, yes, I do still get worked up watching our Reds play, but that’s also not at the ferocious level it used to be (pending beer intake and magnitude of game.) So, it didn’t surprise me when Jürgen Klopp was asked by Sky Sports if he’d given the players a “rollicking” at halftime because of how excitable he’d been on the touchline for almost the entire first half; regularly shouting and waving his arms in frustration at the way we were playing. His response was that he didn’t need to shout or dress anyone down. He just told them that there were adjustments that needed to be made and drew up the plan for how it was going to happen. At that point, Liverpool came out and basically dominated the second half and put the game away.

You can probably imagine how difficult it is to get detailed messages across on the pitch while the game is in motion. The boss is screaming something to you while you’re trying to keep an eye on both your man and the ball and it’s easy to understand how processing those details can get kind of fuzzy. That’s why delivering them in as calm a manner as possible at halftime can be key. No one needs a barrage of information and emotion in the short time that you have. These are professionals. The reason they’re on the pitch in the first place is because you trust them to do their jobs. You should also be able to trust them to get the message of how to do their jobs better with a regular conversation. This, I think, is part of why so many players want to play for Klopp. He trusts them and he supports them, even when he’s telling them that they’ve done something “wrong” and need to change it. We weren’t playing especially well, so we adjusted and turned things around.

Credit is due, of course, to Arsenal, whom were part of the reason that things weren’t going our way. They came out and left spaces for us to exploit but then closed down pass recipients so quickly that it was difficult to generate anything out of the middle third. The broadcast images were mildly hilarious, at times, because the middle of the pitch was a clown car, with 10 players from each side within 30 yards of each other. But, in the end, it was far from the “dire threat” that Arlo on Peacock and Martin Tyler on Sky were making it into. Everything was about “Having Liverpool on the back foot” and “Took the game to Liverpool” and “Outplayed them in the first half.” I generally think it’s pretty tough to have outplayed someone with 45% possession, two shots (neither on target), and no corners, but I guess they have to drum up interest somehow, amirite? The fact of the matter was that we were still the better side, even in that first half, and in the second half we showed how much better and that was the end of it. The microcosm was Trent Alexander-Arnold’s battle with Gabriel Martinelli. The latter is a great player, without doubt, and only getting better. I remember him from the League Cup a couple seasons ago and he was solid then. But he didn’t “have Trent on toast” (Tyler) or “giv[e] Trent nightmares” (White) or any of the usual euphemisms that always seem to lead to the “tReNt CaN’t DeFeNd” meme. Jürgen has already mentioned that if he couldn’t defend, he wouldn’t play. It’s obvious given what the manager asks from all of our offensive players, in terms of backtracking and getting involved in the defensive third, that Trent isn’t being favored because of his offensive ability. The fact that Martinelli got the drop on him a couple times is testament to both how good he is and to our usual defensive game plan. Trent is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do and he’s no more a “weakness” than the vaunted “high line.”

In both cases, just as with the manager, it’s a matter of being calm, properly assessing the situation, and dealing with it. Incidentally, for all of Martinelli’s efforts, he was responsible for only .04 of their .53 xG, with his late shot past the far post. Everything else developed apart from him and none of it was particularly good. Their best chance was from Thiago Alcãntara’s mistaken back pass (.34.) Everything was calm and collected, just like the manager after halftime.


Arsenal 0 – 2 Liverpool

You can make an argument that the first goal was from an error by Aaron Ramsdale. “Keepers should never be beaten at the near post!” is another absurd bit of “common wisdom” in the game. It happens all the time because the keeper doesn’t have the luxury of just sticking to the nearest piece of lumber and blocking a shot, since that shot could easily become a cross which then leaves the entirety of the goal wide open. In this case, that line of thinking is probably the reality. Ramsdale had drifted from the near post because he assumed that Diogo Jota would be playing in a cross from that tight angle and he wanted to be ready for the crossee. But Diogo just took the shot from that angle (witness the tiny star in the above diagram) and put enough power behind it to make Ramsdale’s bottom hand useless.

That happens. It is chalked up as a keeper error, but it’s not an egregious one, unlike the conventional wisdom. I use as support for my argument this article in The Athletic, written by former pro keeper, Matt Pyzdrowski. But that goal was started by the killer pass from the guy who often controlled that clown car in the middle.

Say it with me now: This is the Thiago we were expecting! One of the best parts of his game is that it’s not flashy. He doesn’t spend a lot of time bursting past defenders or bowling anyone over, like a more dynamic but equally competent player in a Steven Gerrard. But he keeps things under control and organized and then delivers a moment or two of brilliance and, by the end of the match, you’re thinking that this guy had everything under control from the moment the ball was kicked. Credit is also due to Fabinho in this match, who had a similar performance, if not quite as high on the searchable stats. He was called out the most by Gunners fans in the post-match thread on r/soccer for being impenetrable. And called out almost as much as the other goalscorer.

Lee Dixon is right. That’s a perfect touch. Too hard and it’s into Ramsdale’s gut and he smothers it. Too soft and it goes past everyone and past the other post. Roberto Firmino made that shot with the outside of his back foot when the ball had already passed him. This is the Bob Effect, in full. He came on and bent the game to his will.

And the stats don’t really tell the story. You look at that for even 34 minutes and it isn’t mindblowing. But, just like with Sadio Mané and Mo Salah, it’s his movement off the ball that twists defenses into the shapes we want them to be in and his movement on the ball that creates opportunities. That whole sequence above started with a scramble for the ball at the top of the box, his recovery of it and then a dash to the endline, before delivering a cutback right above the penalty spot which Thiago was unable to get to. From there, it was another scramble for the ball that Andy Robertson won and carried in with him for the goal. That also means that Liverpool are the first Premier League team to have three players with 10+ assists (Trent (11), Mo (10), Robbo (10)) since… the 19/20 Liverpool squad when all three of them also did it. It also makes us only the third side in the PL era to have three players with double digit goals and three players with double digit assists (that title-winning squad was the second.) It’s also worth pointing out that Mo was on for all of 34 minutes and still managed to get more touches in Arsenal’s box than any other Red. But speaking of touches in the box…

Yeah, man. That’s why we paid £65 million for him. This is a perfect sequence of top goalkeeping. Thiago misses Alexandre Lacazzette because Virg is screening him (Thiago later joked that “I almost had two assists if Ali didn’t make that save!”) Lacazzette takes possession and, instead of diving at either ball or player, Alisson just shadows him, making sure he can’t turn toward the top of the box, and forcing him to give it up. Then, with the knowledge that he now has two teammates on the line, he’s able to run back across his goal and get in front of Martin Ødegaard’s shot. In other words, he eliminates something coming in from a bad angle, forces the shot to come from the middle of the pitch, and makes sure that he’s in front of it the whole way. That’s the best keeper in the world who’s still tied with Ederson for clean sheets in the league with 16.

The match also set any number of records for both Arsenal and Liverpool. This was the Gunners’ 25th loss to us in the PL era, joint-highest with Man United. It was the first time in club history that we’ve won three consecutive away games at Arsenal, on top of not having conceded a goal in any of them. In fact, it’s been over 10 hours of play against Arsenal since they last scored against us. In terms of game-specific effects, it was amusing to note that, despite our having played 13 games to their 6 since we last played each other in the second leg of the WITSBP cup semifinal, we still outlasted them in the second half, as they visibly tired trying to keep up with us in match-control mode. Simon Brundish pointed out on Twitter that we’ve played 17 games in 2022. In those games, Jürgen has made 76 changes to his starting lineup, averaging 4.4 changes per game over the past 10 weeks. Depth.

I have a longer piece that I’ve been tooling around with that talks about both clear bias and incompetency in officiating. Today’s primo example of that was Andre Marriner’s unwillingness to give anything to Sadio and to call him for every vague move toward an Arsenal shirt. I’m not sure when it will be done, but probably in the next couple days. Meanwhile, we’re at the City Ground(!) for the first time in 23 years on Sunday. This would be a great day to fill up Magee’s, especially since we have another awful international break after that. The following tweet was from this morning, so Diogo now has 8 and Bobby has 9…

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