People love “the common wisdom.” They find things that make them feel comfortable because they confirm the opinions they already carry and then they just continue to regurgitate that perspective, no matter how much it conflicts with reality. Examine the vast majority of political opinions held by the far right-wing and you’ll find this in evidence on a regular basis (more guns stops crime; there’s too much crime; lazy immigrants are sponging off the state and taking all our jobs; etc.) One of the most frequent opinions of this sort surrounding Liverpool is that Trent Alexander-Arnold is a poor defender. I’ve refuted this a number of times and am not interested in doing it anymore, but wouldn’t have been able to when talking about the match against Benfica yesterday because, of course, Trent didn’t even play. Instead, more of the usual arguments sprouted up from the usual corners: “Liverpool’s high line is too risky” is a common one, despite the fact that we have one of the lowest xG-against ratios in Europe and have allowed all of 6 goals in the Premier League in all of 2022 to date and have, by far, the highest number of offside calls against our opponents in all of Europe. “We’re risking a loss without X, Y, and Z playing” is another, somehow regardless of the opponent (LFC have lost a grand total of 3 matches this season; all of them by 1 goal) and ignoring the tremendous depth that we’ve been working toward for four years so that neither X, Y, nor Z have to play every match. “Liverpool scraped by” is a great one from the media. We got that about the round-of-16 matches against Inter and, again, from some corners about the two legs against Benfica. This was despite dominating the first leg in both cases so thoroughly that it wasn’t necessary to win either of the follow-ups so that we could rotate in players who don’t get a lot of time on the pitch.
The Guardian Football Weekly’s Barry Glendening is one of the usual culprits in that respect. He’s often fond of citing the fact that the Reds won (again) but “didn’t look particularly good doing it.” But if we’re winning every week, shouldn’t that tell you something about your estimation of what “good” actually looks like? One could say that surrendering three goals to an overmatched Benfica yesterday didn’t look “good.” Of course, you could also acknowledge the randomness of the game that created Gonçalo Ramos’ goal off a hard tackle by James Milner, Robot Warrior. Or you could acknowledge the fact that making 7 changes and including a number of players who don’t play regularly and especially don’t play regularly with each other might produce some more random and, indeed, lesser results. But that would require adding context to one’s train of thought, rather than simply volleying back whatever the “common wisdom” is. It also means that you’re generally not paying attention because it’s more entertaining to just wallow in your preconceptions. To Barry’s extreme credit, he did say that he wasn’t that interested in our match because he had already accepted the fact that we were going through. It’s become routine.
That opinion, of course, brings us back around: If you expect us to win and think it’s become almost tedious when we do, then what is there to panic over? Why gesticulate about our “high line” when it’s obviously been working splendidly for years now? Why worry about who’s on the pitch when the manager who built this squad is obviously extremely comfortable with his selections? Why not just sit back and appreciate what we’re doing and how we’re doing it? Granted, that doesn’t get clicks or encourage people to listen to the podcast (“Yeah. Liverpool won again. Yawn.”) but it also lends itself to the idea that sports media are there to generate stories, not cover them. (It’s also what makes me think that the vast majority of people watching football have no idea what they’re looking at.) But, y’know, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just out of tune with the zeitgeist. Glendening and the rest of the podcast were completely tickled by the eruption of handbags at the Wanda at the end of the Man City-Atleti match. I find that stuff to be a complete waste of time. (Koke’s assertion today that Man City’s timewasting tactics drove him to “madness” is just about hypocritical enough to tear the fabric of reality.) To quote a half-assed film: I am not entertained. But it’s not just about opinion. Many Liverpool fans have been dumping on Roberto Firmino for some time now. When he does get a chance to play, he shows exactly what kind of player he is. The usual response would be something like: “Well, it was just Benfica.” Well, if it was just Benfica, why were you panicking about who was starting the match?
And, of course, we can keep going like this until everyone loses interest (I think I have already) because, again, these same themes arise at almost every match. We’re close to getting over the hump, in that everyone has finally acknowledged that we’re every bit City’s equal in every place but the points tally in the PL. Even the world’s most opinion-driven statistics firm, 538, has finally declared that Liverpool and City both have a 42% chance of winning the Champions League. So maybe we can put some of this stuff to bed in the next few weeks. Or at least until Trent plays another game, I guess.
Liverpool 3 – 3 Benfica
So, yeah. Was a game. Benfica played all out because they had to and still ended up where everyone expected them to be. No Bayern problems, us (snicker.) A lot of the furor before the match was the idea of JMRW and Captain Jordan Henderson starting in midfield. In a game where we were rotating so much against an opponent desperate to go forward, I would think that those two guys are exactly whom you want controlling the middle third. One match in the randomest of sports is not exactly the sample size with which you want to do careful analysis and even less when you’re talking about only 2/3 of said match. But, if you want to go down the “my opinions override my eyes” route, we could casually mention that the game was firmly under control until both James and Hendo were subbed off… Whatever. The man-of-the-match went to the Greek Scouser, Kostas Tsimikas and deservedly so:
Yeah, man. He’s part of the equation that has seen Liverpool FBs rack up 38(!) assists this season; by far the highest of any club on record. The biggest downside to having depth like this is that guys like Kostas don’t get anywhere near the playing time that they probably should. He seems really happy to be here (his family are diehard LFC supporters, so it’s in his blood) so I’m hoping his head doesn’t get turned by offers this summer, but he could easily be playing regularly for any of the other clubs in the PL and a nailed-on starter for most of them and much of the rest of Europe. But right up there for match honors with him is my guy.
As I’ve mentioned before, a few years back, someone asked what my five favorite players were from the rough eras that I’d been supporting the club. My answer was easy: Kenny, Barnesy, Stevie, Bobby, and one wild card. Bob has been doing this since he set foot on Merseyside and a lot of what he does doesn’t translate to easy numbers, but the quality of his play is consistent to anyone who pays attention. Leanne Prescott referred to him yesterday as “the beacon of the Klopp era.” I think that’s pretty accurate. That consideration of history was an element of this match, as well, since it meant that for the first time in the club’s history, we’ve reached the semifinals of the League Cup, FA Cup, and European Cup in the same season. By the same token, it’s fair to question some of the performances in the last few matches. We could’ve played better against City. We could’ve played better tonight. But there were shining moments all the same, like this one:
Witness the primary victim of our “high line” defense. Alisson Becker is in the upper reaches of keepers who’ve faced a high number of 1v1s this season. He’s also the best in the world at stopping them. Tonight he wasn’t as great as usual, but at the same time he also made stops like that one, about which wunderkind, Darwin Nunez, said: “That Alisson save? That was incredible. I swear to you, I saw the ball going in. And then it wasn’t.” That, too, is a recurrent theme.
This weekend is the FA Cup semifinal. It’s at least a little more exciting than the WITSBP Cup, so there’s that. It’s also against Man City. Again. Jürgen said he expected a “better performance” this time. Good enough, then. After that, it’s some other randos from Manchester on Tuesday, followed by the Ev coming to Anfield. Blue-red-blue… We’re still doing that mirror universe thing. Or something. Meanwhile, a small glimpse back into the last time we played Villareal in a European competition: