Utterly adrift

At some point, the wondering where it all went wrong changes into one of two things: outrage or bewilderment. I’m just not willing to summon the emotional energy for the former and, given the looks of Liverpool football Twitter these days, the majority of fans have failed to do so, as well. Oh, there’s still the hardcore that will never be satisfied with FSG’s spending who insist that matching Man United or Chelsea or Forest(!) for outlay over the summer would have solved the crisis of form that currently grips the Reds. To them, holding on to the “ancient” James Milner, Robot Warrior, despite Jürgen’s insistence that we do so, was the high crime (never mind the misdemeanor of continuing to start Captain Jordan Henderson) that has doomed our club to irrelevance this season. They think that throwing money at any problem, real or imagined, will automatically produce success. After all, just look at… Man United for the past decade. Hm. Oh, wait! Just look at Chelsea this season-! Oh.

Of course, the sterling example (even without Raheem Sterling) will always be Manchester City, since they’ve not only spent an absurd amount of money, but demonstrated how to do so wisely again and again. They’ve also repeatedly violated the FFP rules of UEFA, the FA, and the Premier League while doing so, but the fact that only the first of those organizations has ever (quite incompetently) attempted to take them to task for it is a demonstration of just how adept they are at cheating the system and how no one among those very wealthy organizations really cares. The rich are different from you and me, a great author once said. But too many people aspire to be like the rich because that’s how society has trained everyone to think. After all, if it’s a scramble for survival below the top, the best thing to do is elevate oneself out of it, right?

But let’s also try to avoid tipping too far over into the realm of the bizarre, considering that we spent no less than £85 million on a single player just this summer. It’s also fair to question some of Julian Ward and Co.’s decision-making, given that the story has emerged that Aurélien Tchouaméni’s heart was always set on Real Madrid and not Merseyside and after that deal failed to materialize the fallback options were… not present. All of the above is a long, roundabout way of saying that Wednesday night’s opening match of the Champions League in Naples was an unmitigated disaster; to the tune of our worst loss in the competition since 1966 and a first hour of play that didn’t in any way resemble the Liverpool we’ve come to know and love for the majority of time that Jürgen has been here. So what, really, has gone wrong here? I wish I knew. But really the only thing to do is more closely examine the corpse and see if we can find out who/what the cause of death really is.

Caley’s assessment: “The number of wide open scoring chances here just incredible.” Yup.

Napoli 4 – 1 Liverpool

First off, who are the actual performers so far this season who continued to show up against the Gli Azzurri? So far this season, that’s Roberto Firmino, Luís Diaz, and Alisson Becker. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Everyone else has been somewhere between good and outrageously poor from one match to the next. I was just talking up Joe Gomez’s performance in the soul-deadening draw with Everton and he follows that up with a first half in Naples that should have gotten him the hook at halftime, if Jürgen was a more ruthless manager. But let’s not be sparing with the rod here along that back line because Virgil Van Dijk has put forth some very mortal appearances for someone whom many consider to be the best CB currently playing in the game. This was one of them, as Opta pointed out that he’s now matched the number of penalties surrendered in seven matches this season (2) that he had given up in the previous 164 for the Reds. Sure, neither call was nailed-on, but if you’re in the right position, you don’t give officials the opportunity to make those calls with any kind of certainty and Victor Osmihen was making it happen. But one of the largest outliers on defense has been this:

This is a systemic problem. There’s a thread here with multiple examples of just how Harvey Elliott was totally unprepared for both the speed of Napoli’s attack and was unprepared to respond to Fabinho, Millie, and Trent Alexander-Arnold attempting to cover for that speed. Yes, Harvey has been spectacular on the offensive end, but he needs to play both ends of the pitch and some of the excitement over his ability to handle the ball and progress it forward has glossed over the fact that there’s a reason teams have been able to cut through us in the middle third. Mea culpa, as I’ve kinda been one of them, even if I haven’t been as effusive as many others. It took me a while to figure it out, as well, probably because Fabinho and Millie have been doing better jobs than I realized at covering for him, but it’s hard to miss now that Napoli made it starkly obvious. And Trent doesn’t escape the hammer here:

I don’t entirely agree with the tone of the video but, as one of Trent’s most fervent (ahem) defenders about his play in our third, the match in Naples just highlighted some of the problems he’s been having and some that he’s been creating or allowing to happen. One of the things that has kind of driven home my trepidation about the Final Dortmund Season scenario has been Trent’s expression when he’s been on camera. He looks disinterested with what he’s doing and really like he’d rather be anywhere else but on the pitch or in the stands. I didn’t want to mention it before and create a thing or look like I was targeting one player as The Problem. But you can’t miss the lack of effort in that clip and that was when the game was still nominally within reach at 0-2. The insiders have stressed in the last couple days that Jürgen has not “lost the locker room” and I don’t believe that he has, either, but it’s impossible to declare that there isn’t some kind of motivation problem among this squad.

@CallmeAlfredo

This is the occasional lie of statistics. We kept the xT in our favor because we kept pressing the issue. Unfortunately, with one exception, it never paid off. But the above is also an excellent example of getting killed on the counter, which Napoli continued to do from the first minute to around the hour mark when Thiago Alcãntara entered the game. Now there are plenty out there saying: “Thiago solves everything, if only he didn’t get injured so much!” And, it’s true, he did turn out to be one of our best players on the night:

But it’s also possible that Napoli had decided to turn out the lights and simply not bother with trying to win more in a game that was already long since won. And, let’s be honest here: We got outplayed. Napoli look like a squad that’s sharing the lead in Serie A right now. They took the game to us and just played us off the pitch from the opening kick. But that complimentary assessment still fails to answer the essential question: Why?

So, I dunno. Tomorrow’s match got postponed for entirely spurious reasons and I’ll probably have something lengthier to say about that at some point over the weekend. The outlook now is that, because of this delay and the international break, we won’t be playing PL football again until October 1st. The Champions League will continue, of course, since the rest of Europe (and the world) doesn’t really give a damn about England’s political niceties, so that means Ajax comes to Anfield on Tuesday. But will there be a team there to meet them?

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