Tell me again what’s wrong?

I’ve been a little delayed on this one because I’ve been in New Orleans for a few days. I watched the second half of the Southampton match in the Detroit airport and I’m writing this in the New Orleans airport, after a week of being suffused with absinthe and great brass sounds. When life is accompanied by those things, it’s an almost-fair question to ask: What’s wrong, again? There’s so much room for outright joy in this town that it can make all the troubles that you might have seem trivial. That, of course, is also a fair question to ask this squad when they put on a display like they did against the Saints. This was exactly what this team should be and it showed in every aspect of the match (except, well, set-piece defense again, but we’ll get to that.) Passes were crisp and accurate; positioning was near perfect; finishing was likewise. This was the Big Red Machine (™ Cincinnati) that we saw for most of the last five years and which has been strangely absent for much of this one. We’ve even reverted to our favored 4-3-3, which has functioned smoothly in the last couple matches with Darwin Nuñez coming off the left, similar to his time at Benfica. Most notably, this was easily Fabinho’s best performance of the season; appearing as the assured “lighthouse” of the midfield, controlling the pace and intercepting everything that came near him. So, why has it been so hard to make this version of Liverpool appear on a regular basis? Dunno. That’s one of the mysteries of sports, especially those that are extremely reliant on team rhythm and coherence. It seemed at one point that it might be a response to big competition, as with the wins over Man City and Napoli and even Spurs. But no one would accuse Soton of being “big” in that respect, especially with a brand-new manager in Nathan Jones, so there might be an argument that we’ve finally turned a corner…

… right before the debacle that is the 2022 World Cup. So, yeah, we’re finally perhaps getting into sync and now we’re off for the next six weeks. Great. Sure, it gives our half-wrecked front line a chance to get back to playing fitness, but it also is the most extended break of Jürgen’s tenure and we’ve almost never looked good coming out of even a two-week break. Anyone who tells you they know what this team is going to look like after the Qatarstrophe concludes is lying but almost no one would have predicted us to have only 22 points after 14 matches, either. The regular readers among you may have noticed that I didn’t post anything after the penalty shootout in the WITSBP cup match against Derby County, either, but that’s not because I was delayed but more because I don’t care; kinda like I don’t really care what’s happening in the football world for the next six weeks. Given that this may be the last output from the blog for a while, I figured a bit of a delay wouldn’t be that much of a concern, either. Of course, since we’ve apparently landed in a mini-tournament/training camp with Milan and Lyon, maybe there will be more to talk about than I think. As with most things involving Liverpool at the moment (including ownership), the future is uncertain but that’s life, which is football (and music), so there it is.

Liverpool 3 – 1 Southampton

That right there is the argument for why Darwin doesn’t need to be a central striker. As noted, he spent the whole game playing left wing and was still there in the middle channel, taking an excellent pass from Harvey Elliott and a typically wonderful, full-sprint cross from Andy Robertson. The fluidity of the front three in our 4-3-3 hasn’t changed (as in he, Mo Salah, and Roberto Firmino are all fully capable of playing all three spots) and it’s worth wondering if we made the rest of the season far more of an issue for ourselves by experimenting with a new approach, rather than simply focusing on what we do best and finding a way for Darwin to work within it. You do have to try new things once in a while, just to keep opponents guessing and some kind of mental sharpness happening for your own guys, but it’s hard to look at this match and not feel like this is what we should’ve been doing all along. There is that issue with basic defensive assignments that continues to recur, with Virgil Van Dijk somehow losing Che Adams on what was, per usual, a perfect free kick placement by James Ward-Prowse. But some of that may just be the usual variance of the game. Of course, there’s no argument that Darwin has also fully adjusted to the realities of Premier League play and has definitely become more comfortable on the pitch with this squad, even if he still can’t understand anything Jürgen is saying in the dressing room. That whole “mental sharpness” thing deserves a second mention, too, as Pep Lijnders cited it as a potential problem for what may have been impacting our overall play. As much as we had a full break last summer, it came on the heels of two massive disappointments and with players all still trying to excel for their national squads to make the World Cup. Now that so many don’t have that pressure any longer, the training camp they’ve set up in Dubai is probably more liberating than the usual summer excursions.

But before I get into any other player discussions, I want to put this front-and-center. Too often I think I’ve kind of mentioned Alisson Becker’s contributions as an afterthought. “Oh, yeah, after all these other players did wonderful things, Alisson secured the back, too.” It’s efforts like the above that have been keeping us in the mix at all this season. Andrew Beasley pointed out that the conversion rate on big chances in the PL this season is 62%. Against Alisson, it’s 45%. He’s easily in the argument for best keeper in the world, just as he has been for the past few years, and it’s fair to wonder how close to the relegation zone we might be without him. I’ve talked about the best investments the club has made over the last few years and he’s right near the top of that pack, too. That argument extends to man-of-the-match consideration for this game, right alongside this man.

The above numbers also contain things like a number of final third entry passes (9) and accurate crosses (5), one of which was the Liverpool™ goal of choice for the past few years:

Ball kicked on by our false 9 to one of our super-high fullbacks who squares it for not one, but two, onrushing forwards (e.g. if Darwin hadn’t gotten there, Mo would have.) Standard Jürgen Klopp Liverpool. There was another event just like it about 20 minutes before this, where Mo was fed in exactly the same fashion and a superlative effort from Gavin Bazunu stopped us from adding another to his GAA. (As I was speaking of great goalkeeper performances, it has to be said that Bazunu did really well to not let his team become completely buried.) But the key moment there is Robbo being able to pick up that ball and then deliver a flawless daisy-cutter to the middle of the pitch while in a full sprint. As with many others on the squad, it’s been an uneven start to the season for the Scot, but he looks to be back in perfect delivery form at the moment (just as we head off to a six-week break…) Equaling that record (shared with Leighton Baines) is just another notch in the belt of this guy we got for £8 million.

Which is, of course, 1/10th what we paid for this man who has been showing for the past few weeks exactly why we shelled out that much for him. Just like with Mo, I get the feeling he’ll be turning the “flop” assessments into a meme in the same way Mo did the “one season wonder” jibes. Interestingly, he wasn’t so much Captain Chaos in this match, but rather just an example of a superior forward; great motion, great awareness of his position, and great finishing to put away the balls that came to him. The control and direction on the fabulous pass from Harvey for our second goal was a perfect symbol for that. Pretty sure that “3 touches” is supposed to be “3 shots” and the most likely candidate for the lead in that respect is, of course, Mo.

It’s just ludicrous at this point. When you see the obvious dives leading to penalties given from other non-Mo players and then see what happens to Mo on a regular basis, I’m at a loss for how to keep describing the obvious bias. A couple weeks back, we had David Moyes of all people agreeing that Jürgen was justified in his reaction to what happens to our star player. This is the stuff that builds one up to a tantrum on the sideline and you can see Mo reacting to it much more visibly than he has in the past. The pathetic thing was watching Man City fans on Twitter complain about how LiVARpool is a problem when every bit of actual evidence shows it to be precisely the opposite. It’s like arguing with a MAGAt. Incidentally, the number of penalties City has won in the PL so far this season? Three. The number LFC have gotten? Zero.

On that tantrum and the eventual results, it was hilarious both to see the FA take the time to appeal the independent committee’s decision, which was likely made because of the egregious nature of the foul against Mo by Bernardo Silva, but also for Jürgen to completely evade the spirit of the harsher penalty by being in constant communication with the staff at all times throughout this match and basically dictating how he wanted things to proceed, even if he couldn’t shout them out from the touchline.

On the WITSBP cup: No amount of shouting from that touchline apparently would have changed things in the match against Derby County, as the academy squad wasn’t able to get coordinated enough in time to prevent a penalty shootout. Which is totally fine, since Caoimhin Kelleher has now become the all-time shootout winning keeper in the club’s entire history, having won four and saved six of the kicks that he’s faced. It’s really unfortunate that he, like Kostas Tsimikas, is stuck behind a player of Alisson’s quality, since Queev would probably be the #1 for any number of clubs, in the PL and out. There were some solid performances by others on the squad, plus the debut for 16-year-old Ben Doak, who looked as capable as anyone else out there on the pitch. It’s also essential to point out that this squad of mostly teenagers largely outplayed the League One side, outshooting them 19-6 (6-3) and having three quarters of the possession, plus any number of other stats (7-3 on corners) that showed just who was the dominating force in this match. Next round? Man City. We’ll see if we can keep the current streak alive.

On the sale: A couple weeks back, the LFC world went into a tizzy because David Ornstein decided to turn a story (“FSG looking for investors”) into a clickbait headline (“FSG IS SELLING LIVERPOOL!!!”) That’s really kind of a low class move from a guy who has a deserved amount of respect among football journalists. Nothing in FSG’s statement above indicates that they’re parting with one of the crown jewels in their portfolio. It says they’re looking for outside money to share the burden of running the club. Certainly, as they emphasized this morning, if the right offer came in, they would definitely consider selling the whole thing. They got into this as an investment, not because they were diehard Reds fans. But the initial foray was based around the idea of looking to get some more cash into the coffers so that they can afford to keep reinvesting in Liverpool Football Club and the significant outlay that appears to be needed to keep our midfield operational and to try to compete with the sportswashing projects like Man City. Tom Werner noted that: “One outcome could be our continued stewardship for quite a while.” You can take that at face value or you can suspect that it’s a negotiating tactic with a buyer they already have on the hook (The list of potentials is apparently endless.) I’d like to think that they’re enough in tune with what the club is and represents that selling to the nearest autocrat with an oil piggy bank wouldn’t be their first choice, but there’s no telling where billionaires will choose to drop their money.

On Twitter: Speaking of which, most of you are probably aware of the turmoil at the site that really helps me write these things, which is yet another example of how much authority we’ve allowed these fragile man-children to accumulate because of the wealth that they’ve been allowed to accumulate. Twitter is, first and foremost, a brilliant news site. It’s the only place on the Web where you can easily present things like the charts that Caley and Alfred create, plus video clips, and a constant stream of information that enhances everything. It’s become a public resource of the highest order, even with its downsides. And, of course, it’s now being run into the ground by a spoiled egotist because someone once made fun of him there (and now millions have joined in.) There was apparently a dire moment just last night when everyone thought the other shoe had really dropped, but it’s still running this morning so we can only hope that the “genius” who decided to drop $44 billion might find someone willing to pay him a tenth of that to take it off his hands and return it to some level of stability. If not, there’s going to be a lot more random Reddit posts populating these things in the future, which won’t nearly be as useful or, in many ways, as entertaining. There are many arguments for extracting the (often ill-gotten) wealth from these faux “geniuses” for the benefit of society as a whole. This is just the latest one.

Word on the street is that we have a match scheduled with Olympique Lyon on 12/11, so there’s at least that to look forward to. If you’re going to be watching the World Cup, you’re going to be doing it without me, as I’m simply not interested in the ethics involved in that whole situation, on top of my disdain for someone whose only qualifications for coach of the USMNT being a handy dose of nepotism. So, I’m not sure what will be happening here for the next few weeks. I’ll probably come up with something along the way.

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