I’m a Classical Stoic, specifically of the Marcus Aurelius branch of that originally Greek philosophy. Classical Stoicism doesn’t just embody the endurance that has been the modern perception of being “stoic” but is actually a quite forward-thinking and positive school of thought. Most of it is about personal discipline and contributing to the general welfare of others. My favorite Aurelian quote is: “Let every action aim solely for the common good.” That’s a high bar to reach and few ever get there, but it’s something to strive for in the same way that those who carry faith in the divine try to meet the goals that they feel their creator has assigned to them. But there were many schools of philosophy first developed by the ancient Greeks and one of them is Cynicism. The modern conception of that idea is essentially the disbelief in anything positive. If something good happens, there’s a nefarious motive or agenda behind it. It has become a philosophy of mistrust whether in others’ motivation or the whims of the universe, much closer to pessimism rather than the anti-materialists who sought to be in tune with nature which was the core theme of the original school.
I watched the match today with some degree of that modern conception of cynicism, in that as much as I enjoyed the pace of play and the sure-footedness and the switch to the 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2, I hearkened back a bit to my post over the weekend, which had me essentially resigned to what has been the current state of the squad’s output on the pitch this season. It wasn’t that we were giving up chance after chance (until, you know, the last 10 minutes or so…) but that we had complete control of the game and were peppering the opposing goal with shots and still only scored off a (brilliant) set piece and a penalty. So, inasmuch as a whole lot had changed from our previous approach, it’s equally true that not much had changed, since we still couldn’t capitalize on that control and put this game to bed long before it ended. That’s the (modern) cynic talking. Part of it, of course, was that a keeper stood on his head (hockey term) to keep the opposition in the match. How many times have we seen that in recent years? But another part is that we’re still underperforming our xG (not drastically in this match) which is still something that’s going to lead to draws (like the weekend), rather than the wins that said stat indicates should be the case.
Certainly, that’s the game. It’s going to happen. In the same way that Union Berlin has been absurdly overperforming against their xG (at last count, 15 goals on an xG of just over 6), regression to the mean is almost inevitable. It’s just a matter of when. It’s our job as supporters, as Jürgen has recently emphasized, to support the team until they can get there. That’s especially going to be important in the 13 games in 39 days that we’re currently in the midst of, including a trip to Premier League-leading Arsenal on Sunday and a trip to Ibrox next Wednesday, followed by the rematch with the Norwegian goalscoring machine on the following weekend. As displayed for much of this evening, this Liverpool squad is basically overflowing with talent, no matter what the transfer window warriors will tell you. It’s the execution that has been lacking, just as it was inside the 18-yard box tonight, despite abounding across the rest of the pitch. This is where we feel less like an ancient Greek philosopher or Roman emperor and more like Homer Simpson. But the inclination to suspicion has more weight on its side of the scale than the positive thought of how we’ve finally figured “it” out and will remain that way for a bit. I trust Jürgen. I have faith in this squad. A couple more performances like this and I’ll be back to a more positive frame of mind.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Rangers
Caley is once again the deviant when it comes to xG, as Alfred had ours as 2.46 and Markerstatsbot on Twitter had it as 2.1. I question the size of some of Caley’s boxes there, as a couple of those attempts by Darwin Nuñez and Luís Diaz were saved only by the extraordinary efforts of Allan McGregor (How appropriate is it that the name of Rangers’ keeper is “McGregor”? Extremely.) There was no question whom the winner of the match should be, by any estimation, but the end result could have displayed it in far more daunting fashion for the visitors. I think the switch back to the 4-2-3-1 was an obviously welcome change. Having a dual pivot of Thiago Alcãntara and Captain Jordan Henderson is both a blanket of security when it comes to controlling opposing charges up the middle and a mildly ridiculous weapon, as shown by the brilliant passing of both, with Thiago doing his usual thing and Hendo once again displaying his pinpoint accuracy at delivering balls into the box for easy chances. One of those shoulda-been-bigger boxes in that image was one that he basically dropped in front of Darwin as he sprinted past Rangers’ overloaded defense once again and a situation in which you’d almost always expect him to score except, well, the cynic has spoken. The double pivot is probably the more suitable role for the captain at his current age, because it takes advantage of his positioning knowledge and still-able passing, even from a deeper position, and doesn’t require the bursts of mobility which have been harder to come by. And Thiago, of course, can simply be Thiago, even in a deeper role. The best part about their relationship is that it allows both of them to indulge their desire to move forward as they trade positions at the base of the midfield.
What that formation also engages is a front-loaded offense that allows Mo Salah and Luís to shift in and out at will, still gives Diogo Jota and Bobby Firmino the freedom to roam all over the center lane, and allows both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kostas Tsimikas to come inside as the “replacement” midfielders for our usual 4-3-3 shape, which is what Trent especially has already been doing. Traditionally, the 4-2-3-1 is seen as a more defensive shape, because the 1 is supposed to be a target guy calling the front 3 forward but allowing them space to fall back as a midfield 5. The way we play it is usually front-loaded, since we keep our centerbacks and fullbacks so high in the first place, which means that it’s more of an offensive emphasis for us than it is for many other teams. It hasn’t always worked that way for us, but Darwin is the new element here that should really allow it to shine.
“Super unlucky” is right (Welcome to Liverpool!) but his movement off the ball was excellent and you can see all of the traits which made him such an appealing transfer target last summer. It’s been a bit of a stuttering start for him for a variety of reasons, but the last Uruguayan striker we picked up was also derided as a waste of money because of his slow start in English football before he became a club legend, so I remain unconcerned about where our money has gone. I can see what we’ve spent in every match. The goals will follow. After all, he’s racking up a mildly ridiculous 8.5 shots per 90. There were other, more obvious, answers to criticism, as well.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of that criticism has been deserved. He’s looked lost (or disinterested) out there more than once. But that could also be what LFC stats is suggesting here, too, in that someone who’s been given directives that leave them uncomfortable can be frustrated by what’s happening around them. There’s no way to know that for sure without being inside Kirkby (Darwin admitted that “I honestly don’t understand anything (Klopp) says when he talks in team talks”) but tonight was a lot more of the TAA that we’ve come to expect, even beyond the masterful free kick. His crosses were much more accurate and his corner has some of the curve on them that has made him such a menace over the years. That’s also true of his opposite number.
A couple of Kostas’ corners were spot on and his switches of play are starting to rival the connection that Trent has with Andy Robertson. Kostas once again displayed an excellent awareness of where to be defensively with that goal-line clearance. It’s a sensibility that seems inherent to him, whereas Robbo often has to make up for more questionable judgment with his pronounced speed. Kostas is taking advantage of his opportunity as the starter with a very loud statement and it will be disappointing if he ends up relegated to just cup games when Andy returns.
In other game notes, it was James Milner, Robot Warrior’s 300th game for the Reds, which seems kind of insane until you remember that he’s been here for seven years. It was also Mo’s 35th CL goal, which puts him behind only Didier Drogba for goals scored for an English club in the competition. Watching history with every match with these guys.
So, yeah. The Gooners at the Emirates. If we play like today, I think we take it. If we play like the first half vs Brighton, we get tossed aside. Easy, right? Then it’s on to Ibrox for the first time in the club’s history. Like I said, history with every match these days. Who says it’s all about the past glories? Only cynics and ManU fans.