I used to own a lot of cats. At one point, I had six in the house at the same time, perhaps making me and my then-wife the younger version of one of the more entertaining minor characters to ever grace The Simpsons. As responsible owners with no interest in kittens whatsoever, we had all of the females spayed and all of the males neutered. So, that latter term is what most people think of when it’s used: depriving a domestic male pet of its reproductive organs. But the colloquial meaning is also “rendered ineffective; deprived of vigor or force.” This is Liverpool Football Club right now. It’s not a bunch of guys running around after just being castrated, but given their performance on the pitch, it might as well be. Jürgen carried through on his vague threat from Saturday, promising that there would be changes and, indeed, there were with a half-dozen replacements starting the game in the form of Roberto Firmino, Darwin Núñez, Curtis Jones, Kostas Tsimikas, Joel Matip, and Joe Gomez. Unfortunately, with the occasional exceptions of Darwin and Curtis, none of them functioned any better than the starters on Saturday and the rest of the returnees today, with the exception, yet again, of Alisson Becker, whom we have to thank for rescuing a point in a match in which we lost the xG by a factor of somewhere between 8 and 10 to 1 (anywhere from Chelsea 1.89 to 2.43 to Liverpool’s .19 to .29 in the analyses that I’ve seen.) That was because the Blues, under interim manager Bruno Saltor, actually created chances and twice almost put the game away, barring Alisson, and twice more, barring VAR, whereas we managed 7 whole shots, 3 of them on target. The complaint all season has been about the midfield. Then it became the defense. Now it’s the front line, as well, whenever it lacks Mo Salah. So, “neutered” seemed to be the most suitable definition of what we watched today (in addition to “dreadful”) and not just because this is the first time two top-flight sides have played four consecutive matches without scoring against each other since Arsenal and QPR in 1992-94 and only the third pairing in history to “accomplish the feat.”

But, as that xG comparison displays, it’s not just the front line that is the (latest) problem. We’ve also conceded 83 big chances in league play this season, behind only Fulham, and yet Alisson is only two clean sheets off the lead for the Golden Glove this season. If anyone at the club even approaches the idea of anyone but our keeper being the player of the season, that person should be removed as a threat to the general intelligence of their surroundings. It’s not really outrageous to consider the idea that the reason we’re not struggling in the relegation zone alongside the neighbors is because we have the best keeper on the planet. It’s also not surprising to see him taking issue with Captain Jordan Henderson, given the heat he’s been under and the generally lackluster play that he’s seen in front of him for the past eight months. This, as they say, is not what he signed up for. The fact that he’s yelling at the captain, who happens to play midfield, where a lot of the breaks by opponents have begun and would normally be sorted, is also likely not a coincidence. Hendo’s quotes after the game included: “The reaction was positive. We just lacked that quality in the final third.” Given that the primary strategy this season has been “Dump the ball forward to Darwin and expect him to negotiate a packed box”, yeah, there’s a quality issue there; possibly of basic game-planning. Another was: “A clean sheet at Chelsea is never easy.” Since Graham Potter was just let go after seven months (Chelsea’s second sacking in one season; even Abramovich never hit that low) primarily because Chelsea has been unable to score, that quote, reminiscent as it is of eight years ago when we were meandering around in mid-table just like now, is both out of touch with the reality at Stamford Bridge and no consolation whatsoever in the face of what most Reds fans have come to expect over the past five years.

Most of us are of the same mind as Alisson. In a similar fashion, I’m not willing to trash our players or the manager for how they’re performing, but they are all open to criticism, top to bottom. There are many things that led to this second crash landing of a season in the last three. Injuries, fatigue (mental and physical), loyalty to players that perhaps should have been let go in the same way Gini Wijnaldum was two seasons ago (How many arms would I give to have reliable, solid, capable Gini playing out the rest of the season for us right now? At least three.) All the regular sources keep insisting that this summer will be “transformative”, “flush with cash”, “ready to back Jürgen to the hilt.” I’ve heard those quotes before. I’ve also heard Jürgen say that he’s content with the squad as is before, even though now he has markedly changed his tune, alongside the acknowledgement that the only reason he hasn’t increased the record-setting total of managers fired in one season in the Premier League is because of past success. He’s earned that privilege. But it is a privilege. We’re already letting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita go this summer on frees because, word has it, of his loyalty to his players. The inability for either of them to stay on the pitch is part of that aforementioned injury crisis that ruined the club’s long-term planning for the midfield. But we knew that about both of them before we signed them, just as we did with Thiago Alcântara who has now missed 35%(!) of our matches with injury since he arrived. Again, there can be no one considered safe outside of Mo and Alisson. Being neutered by not being present on the pitch is almost as bad as being so while on it. YNWA still extends to our people, especially in the darkest of days, but you have to walk forward to not walk alone.


Chelsea 0 – 0 Liverpool

Understat’s xG comparison is the worst that I’ve seen by ratio, so it’s perhaps fitting that Caley’s diagram wasn’t ready so I went with this one. It’s pretty easy to see how only two of our shots came from inside the box while only three of theirs came from outside of it. For anyone who thought that the match was dire by both sides because of the disorganization, number of intercepted passes or passes to nowhere, or inability to get through the middle third successfully, the above should be another reminder of just how fortunate we are that Alisson’s form hasn’t fallen off the cliff that the rest of the squad’s has. Alongside the mention of clean sheets and the inability to score against Chelsea since the Middle Ages (this is such an awful reminder of José Mourinho’s days at Stamford Bridge), it’s also worth pointing out that we’ve managed one (1) goal in our last three league matches. It’s not quite as awful a run as that of January, where we took three losses and a draw while only scoring one goal but, hey, all it will take to match that would be a shutout by Arsenal on the weekend, so… Hidden in the information presented in that horribly sparse diagram above is the fact that only one of those seven shots came in the second half (a Darwin effort from outside the box), which is a pattern repeating from both the Man City and Real Madrid matches, when it became almost a routine effort for the opposition to shut us down, no matter whom was playing in the front three.

There’s not much to say positively, player-wise, although I think it has to be acknowledged that Darwin is at least trying to do something. In contrast, Diogo Jota’s return to playing time after his long injury layoff has not been positive in any way, shape or form. I think LFC Stats’ implied criticism here is misplaced, however, with Darwin having only recently recovered from a minor injury of his own, it’s perfectly within Jürgen’s regular substitution patterns to try to limit the minutes of players in those circumstances. But Diogo is following the path of several other players in predicted patterns of performance. The rumored reason that Wolves were willing to let him go was because he started strong with them and then sharply faded. The same thing has happened here, in which he exploded onto the scene in his first season with us and hasn’t done a whole lot since. It’s been 30(!) games since he last scored for us. A lot of that is injury time, so he can’t be blamed for that, but it also hasn’t looked any more likely that he’d put the ball into the net since he returned. Granted, two of those matches were against teams that specialize in limiting opportunities (City and Chelsea) so it’s too soon to really make a judgment, but it’s worrying that his performance is just like the injury records of Ox, Naby, and Thiago that we knew before we bought them and seemingly had to prove it to ourselves, up close and personal.

Really, only Curtis deserves a nod here, not because he was spectacular, but because he demonstrated that he’s still capable of being a real contributor in midfield, as long as he has time to do so. I’ve never been knocked over by his play and he’s a step behind others like Hendo and Thiago when it comes to passing, but he’s also only 22, compared to both of them who are in their 30s, and when I was watching today, the only times I remember thinking that someone was good on the ball, both retaining and dribbling past people, was when I saw Curtis a couple times. If that’s the upper limit of being complimentary in this match, it’s a low bar, but it’s something. Also, James Milner, Robot Warrior moved into third place in the all-time PL list for appearances today with 610, only behind Ryan Giggs and Gareth Barry. Also, this was Hendo’s 350th appearance for the club.

On that note, and just to pile on the misery, as noted above, it was confirmed today by multiple sources that Naby would be leaving the club this summer. I will forever regard this as the cryingest of crying shames. Every statistic in existence told the story of how talented this guy is. He was our third-most expensive transfer in club history for a few years and we even waited a year for him to come onboard from RB Leipzig. He was going to be the future of our midfield, but only ended up being available for about a third of our games over five years(!) and in a third of those was so out of form as to belie what the numbers said for the other two-ninths (Fractions, kids!) where his deft passing and underlying stats spoke of one of the most talented midfielders in Europe. But all the talent in the world isn’t worth a damn if you can’t actually get on the pitch. As it is, he’s likely already played his last minute for the club, since he came back from international duty with yet another injury. It will be rightly looked at as the worst buy the club has made in the modern era because when we made other poor buys (Andy Carroll, Christian Benteke, Alberto Aquilani, Mario Balotelli, Robbie Keane, pretty much everyone Souness bought while he was here, etc.), we were usually able to at least recoup some of the money we spent.

So, yeah. Joy. We have the Gooners on the weekend so if you’re tired of watching dreary football, there will be at least one capable and exciting team on the pitch at Anfield. Given the way we show up at home, there’s every chance we could take them down, as with ManU a few weeks ago. But I’m not counting on anything right now, sitting in eighth place and behind such stalwarts as Aston Villa. (Hey, I’m old enough to remember when referring to the Villans as “stalwarts” or even “threats” wasn’t actually a joke. But we’re talking the 80s here, kids, so don’t pay attention to me.)

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