At some point, you realize that there’s not a lot of point in continuing to hope. I mean, you imagine that there are breakthrough moments, like 2-0 with Everton and 2-0 at Newcastle, but then you realize that Everton is in the relegation zone and Newcastle looked like the more threatening side for much of that match with 10 men. Of course, the flip side to that is not assuming that everything is completely burning around you. Yes, we did lose 5-2 to Real Madrid, but that was because they somehow managed 5 goals off of an xG of less than half that because of, as Michael Caley asserted, “devil magic.” (I’m sure there are legions of Barcelona fans smiling wryly at that idea. Plus a few references to Franco.) But then we come to Palace looking for some kind of emotional response and what we get is as flat as Scott Adams’ head. The first 10 minutes were great, as we pushed forward and attacked like the Liverpool that everyone has come to expect. That was, in many ways, like the first 20 minutes against Madrid, where we not only pushed forward and had them on the back foot, but had a 2-0 lead at that time. And then everything kind of imploded and the ice came down and we lost power for a while and so I didn’t bother to get the game report done until today, when I figured I’d combine it with a “routine” victory over Palace; a club that we haven’t lost to in six years and one we haven’t failed to score against in 18. But, yeah, no Darwin, no mojo, I guess.
After a crushing defeat that as much as ends any hope of the Reds winning any silverware this season, you would think that there would be some greater motivation to at least do as well as we can in the league and return to the Champions League next season to try again. But that’s not happening, at this point, and hoping for it is just going to generate the same level of disappointment that has been this entire season. Who would have thought after winning the Premier League title in 2020 that two of the next three seasons would be complete write-offs; one from an unmatched injury crisis and one from a team that looks like it’s just not interested in playing half the time. At that point, you just kind of shrug your shoulders and move on to other things, because if they don’t care, why should you? That’s about where I am at the moment. I’m going to write a few hundred words with details about the Madrid loss and the Palace effective loss (when it comes to the vain quest to secure a CL spot) and then I’m going to basically forget about all of this until Wednesday, when we as a mid-table side have to play another less-than-mid-table side in Wolverhampton (again…) There are legions of LFC “fans” out there in the Twitterverse screaming about how X player should never have been on the pitch or how FSG has ruined the club and yadda, yadda, yadda. At this point, it’s just not worth the energy. Most of it is completely wrong, of course, but they’re also expending more intensity than half the squad just laid down at Selhurst Park. It’s just not worth it right now. Wiser people than me have noted that the worst thing for a sports club/team isn’t hatred or rage. It’s indifference. Don’t get me wrong: I’m completely disgusted, so I know that I still care. Plus, this is football, so this kind of thing does happen, has happened, and will happen again, no matter how good your manager/sporting director/owner are and, in most cases, no matter how much money you spend (see: Chelsea.) That’s just the game. But I’m just not interested in getting too worked up about it right now. So, I’ll write my words, shrug my shoulders, and move on.
Liverpool 2 – 5 Real Madrid
Five goals is the most we’ve ever given up in a home game in European play. In fact, four would have been the most if we’d only conceded that many. But, again, looking at that diagram above and wondering how that match didn’t end 4-3 in our favor is fair. That’s football, yo. And a lot of other records were set that night. Darwin Núñez’s goal after three minutes and 10 seconds was LFC’s fastest ever Champions League goal at Anfield. That one was quite the beauty, too.
That was a great assist by Mo Salah, as well, making him the first player to have both scored and assisted in CL play for an English club in at least eight matches. He’s also now the all-time CL goal leader for the club, as well as the all-time assist leader. And Stefan Bajčetić became the youngest player to ever start for the club in the knockout rounds. He also got a lesson or two from Luka Modrić during the match because that’s just going to happen. The fact that Modrić also managed to beat Fabinho in the air not once, but twice, during that match says a lot about what’s going on and about who was ready to really play after halftime, where everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Reds. Like, y’know, this:
I mean, who knows, maybe we still would’ve lost 5-3 but the absolute inability to get a penalty for Liverpool is absurd. We already know about Mo’s problems and he proceeded to get mugged more than once in this game without a whistle. But we’re also now on 329 days in the PL without being given one. Oh, yeah. The PL…
Crystal Palace 0 – 0 Liverpool
The one significant tactical change we’ve been adopting over the past few weeks is the abandonment of the press. Jürgen has apparently decided that we just don’t have either the will or the legs for it, as a group, and that’s been the key factor that I’ve slowly been arriving at as to why we seem so ineffective in both the middle and defensive thirds. Defense starts at the top and we’re just not doing it there. The fact that we’ve been so riven by injuries along the front line (playing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (midfielder) and Harvey Elliott (midfielder) there until Cody Gakpo’s arrival) is part of that, but it’s also just been off this season, among all of our other physical and psychological maladies. As I’ve mentioned before, people lament Sadio Mané’s absence for his scoring and ball handling abilities and they’re right. We do miss those. But he was also a counter-pressing monster and no one that has played on the left side for us this season has been as good as he was at that key aspect of the Klopp system. So, what showed up tonight was our decision to try to maintain possession as long as we could and immediately retreat as soon as we lost it. As Jürgen pointed out, Object #1 was to not concede anymore goals and, if that was the intent… much success! It’s our third straight PL clean sheet, something we haven’t done since last April. Of course, it’s also our third 0-0 draw of this season, which is as many as we had in the three previous seasons combined. The woodwork gods are against us, too, since we’ve hit the posts or crossbar more times than anyone else in the league this year (14.) And it’s not like everyone has stopped trying.
But he’s been the exception when he used to be part of the rule. He still has the most goals, assists, big chances created, and total chances created. Oh, and dribbles into the box. But there are a couple others who’ve been notable. To his extreme credit, Cody has looked pretty solid in the Bob Role, to the point where I’m now thinking that that was Jürgen’s long-term intent in buying him. He has good ball control, keeps his head up, is generally looking for the offensive pass, and seems well-suited to playing the false 9, which was his primary function tonight. He, like everyone else, just couldn’t cash in. His 1v1 with Vicenté Guaita is that big, red box up there. Another day, a slightly different touch and it could’ve been three points instead of one.
So, anyway, yeah. I’m just going to try to box out all of this until Wednesday. Aside from all of the practical aggravations of this past week (the one time I’ve been wrong in the past decade about disastrous weather bearing down on us…), I’m just not in the mood to watch or care about what really is dreadful, mid-table football at the moment. I’m sure for Palace fans it’s all the same, but we’ve been spoiled by Jürgen for the last few years and were kinda spoiled for much of Stevie G’s career before that. (Anyone else remember 2013-14? Sigh. I mean, other than the brutal end which also involved Palace…) Jürgen said after the match that we have to take the positives and move on. So, great. Go do that. I’m’a be over here doing something else until the next time a ball is kicked.