An ode to seeing red

This is the first time we haven’t won at least one of the two opening games of a Premier League season since Jürgen Klopp became our manager. Given how close we came to an unprecedented trophy haul last season, I think it’s fair to say that the frustration has reached something of a boiling point with both the squad and the fans. That boiling point manifested itself most obviously with reigning hero-of-the-moment, Darwin Nuñez, getting sent off inside of an hour for a confrontation with Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen. Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve found ourselves with a Uruguayan striker with a bit of a temper problem. That last one actually turned out pretty well, once you get past the whole racism and cannibalism things. Darwin also looks to be worth the coin and the starting slot. It was, however, an Anfield debut to forget, given that in addition to putting us a man down, he also went 0-for-5 in aerial duels (not the greatest for a 6’2″ striker who’s seeing a lot of long balls and crosses) and 0-for-5 in shots on target, as well.

Something else we’re not experiencing for the first time is an absurd injury situation that sees no less than 9 injured senior players (Kelleher, Matip, Konaté, Thiago, Gordon, Jones, Ox, Firmino, Jota) plus new recruit, Calvin Ramsay, and now Darwin suspended for three matches (ManU, Bournemouth, Newcastle.) The second and third names on that list meant that Nat Phillips got his first PL start for the club in over a year (May of ’21.) I’m fairly certain that Nat was started to give us his dominant presence in the air against Palace’s fairly sizable squad and eagerness to play Route 1 football (All roads lead to Zaha.) But he was replaced shortly after that hour mark by Joe Gomez, who is much better at advancing the ball and recovering after being in an advanced position, via his speed. That was because, once again, we had surrendered the lead in our sixth straight league game and still, remarkably, even with 10 men, haven’t been defeated in any of them. It does mean, of course, that we’ve dropped four points from our first two matches which, given the ongoing pursuit of perfection against the GDP of a Gulf oil state, is not something we can really afford to do, especially against “lesser” opponents like Fulham and Palace. It cost us last year, just as it did four years ago, although it’s fair to argue that the draw that really put the spike in last season wasn’t against a “lesser” opponent, since it was against Antonio Conté’s Tottenham.

Regardless, this is certainly not the vision that most had for our opening two matches against a club that had just come up (again) from the Championship and a perpetual mid-table squad that we’d beaten 10 straight times in the league (Jürgen has more wins against Palace than any other PL side.) Certainly, credit has to be extended to the resilience of the squad in coming from behind twice last week and doing so again this week when down a man. That can’t be highlighted any more than when looking at the play of once-and-now-current man-of-the-moment, Luís Diaz. Certainly, you’re not going to see many better goals than this one:

That was the pinnacle in an effort that saw him tearing up the field in every direction and in every zone. After nine days without a match and only two games into the season, you’d kinda hope that everyone on our squad would have been putting in that kind of intensity and many of them did. But the bounces haven’t gone our way and now we’re sitting 12th in the table, two weeks in, staring up like everyone else is at the oil club. At this point, the struggle is to make oneself not trade colors from seeing red to seeing black (like oil.) It’s a long way to go and there’s nothing to do but try to sort it out. We, once again, have an extended regular break (seven days until we head to Old Trafford) which has never been an advantage for us, rhythm-wise. But perhaps with this frustration and some time to heal, it could be.

Liverpool 1 – 1 Crystal Palace

That diagram is an example of almost what Patrick Vieira wanted to see. A barrage of shots on one side that he knew the Eagles couldn’t prevent (22 touches for the Reds in the Palace box in the first 25 minutes, as opposed to 0 for them) but some solid chances created by getting the long ball to Wilfried Zaha who would try to get the jump on our high line. This is not a new script. Most of the time, we’re able to deal with it. But despite Nat’s virtuosity in the air he, like most CBs in the league, has trouble keeping pace with the still eminently-talented Zaha. We got caught out once and that was the end of it. We’ve now been behind at the half in as many games as in the entirety of last season. You’d probably like this to change at some point.

That said, our performance in the first half was absurdly dominant. It was probably the best we’ve looked in a league match in months and even better than the first half against Fulham last week. When we went down to 10 men… nothing changed. Palace’s entire game plan was to sit back, absorb pressure, and find Zaha alone up top. Even with the man advantage, they didn’t shift out of that; likely because Vieira knew that, even without the numbers, if he gave space to Mo Salah or Luís or whoever Liverpool put up front, Palace would probably pay for it. So, they ended up looking like the side that was down a man for most of that last half hour (in which they took every effort to minimize having the ball in play.) But if you look at that xG diagram, you’ll notice that there are a couple pretty huge chances right there in the middle of the box. Both of them were from Zaha; one denied by Alisson Becker and the other by our old enemy, the woodwork, which once again hampered us on the other end, as Darwin was denied in the final moments of the first half. But there was almost no stopping this man:

That’s stuff of legend-making, especially the dribbles (three of which he created while going past five men for the goal) and the tackles, because he was doing the Bob Role, dropping back and cleaning up while also covering the offensive third’s entire width when we went down to 10. He also had the most duels won for LFC (16), which is the most for any Liverpool player in a PL match since Lucas Leiva in 2017 and the most fouls won (3) when, y’know, Paul Tierney actually decided to call one (4 called in the entirety of the first half; tell me the last time you saw that in a game of English football.) But Luís wasn’t alone out there:

I tweeted one mild complaint about him taking one extra touch too often and not keeping the play moving, but Harvey Elliott was excellent in this match. You’d like to think that, given our injury situation, he’d be an automatic starter. But he’s close to being that just based on his own efforts, regardless of whom is actually available. With Captain Jordan Henderson not able to start because of a mild injury concern (which also contributed to Joe only coming on as a substitute; Injuries! Everywhere!), I think Harvey is the go-to guy right now. We’ll have to see how it works against ManU. But the team performance overall was just insane.

The Athletic

I mean ridiculous.

@CallmeAlfredo

I mean preposterous.

@CallmeAlfredo

I mean, well… actually kinda normal. And that’s what leads to the frustration. We’ve seen this squad do this over and over and over for the majority of the past five seasons and we’ve certainly extracted some success from that performance. The difference right now is that we finished second by a point in two of the last four seasons and dominated a Champions League final in precisely this kind of fashion three months ago and still came away without a trophy. We have a deeper squad than anyone in Europe with the exception of (of course) Manchester City. These are the matches we should be winning. But, then again, that’s football, yo. All the pining does is get the transfer window warriors into a spin about how Wolverhampton was willing to spend £45 million on Matthias Nunes and we weren’t. But I’m getting tired of repeating the same things about squad size, getting guys up to speed by the time others return from injury, yadda yadda yadda. They’ll never listen because the only thing that matters to them is comparing prices with the fans of other clubs that are just like them.

Officiating. Yay.

This, of course, was another master class by one Paul Tierney; an official who does not like Jürgen and for whom the feeling is decidedly mutual. There’s nothing to be said about the red card. That’s on Darwin and no one should be telling you any differently. But the rest of the match was egregiously poor. Calling fouls at the scarcity of the first half incentivizes that kind of physical play from the side that wants to do a Burnley, which was very much Palace in this instance. Then, when they start time-wasting, Tierney was only too eager to sit there and lecture them about it, which only further takes seconds off the clock which are never put back in extra time. And, of course, the usual routine when Mo was dragged down in the box as Andersen has both arms wrapped around him and, because he’s named “Mo Salah”, nothing happens. If you think that doesn’t have an effect, consider that Mo created eight chances in this match, the most by any player in a single PL match since October of last year, even while being manhandled in the box. Speaking of things I’m tired of talking about…

Now it’s on to basement-dwelling Manchester United; the first time they’ve been bottom of the PL table since August of 1992. Happy 30th birthday, PL! Of course, ManU’s aggravated fanbase are openly planning an event to disrupt the match, just like two years ago at Old Trafford. One hopes that this time, given the condensed schedule, it’s not our problem to suffer through a midweek, rescheduled game because United can’t be organized enough to keep the protesters out and that the league would just declare a forfeit, give us the points and move on. One also hopes that if the game does occur, we could just take all three points and move on but, well, yeah…

Seriously. What a goal.

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