Are you a team who shows no real attacking ambition? Are you defensively organised?Are you willing to kill the spectacle of football to gain a point?
If the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’, then you will most probably get a point at Anfield. Burnley, Man United, Everton and West Brom could all credibly answer yes to the above questions, and all four departed L4 with a point.
I wrote in an earlier recap that anyone who doesn’t believe Liverpool are progressing has a pejorative view of the club. I stand by that, but those arguing our lack of progression are assisted by the fact
that one big Achilles heel is nullifying the impact of our overall progression. The ability to play ‘Rock n’ Roll’ football against Spartak can only be a true gauge of progress when we aren’t being shut out by Jonny Evans a week later.
Whether it was excessive rotation, the conditions or the fact that West Brom are bad for football morale, the Reds did not perform well last night. Naturally we still had enough chances to win, because even a poor Liverpool performance yields chances (especially when you have 71% possession).
I’ll address the first point when discussing the line-up. We made another 6 changes with Karius, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Can, Wijnaldum, Firmino and Coutinho all coming in. Mignolet, Gomez, Henderson, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Solanke all dropped out. Notably, the Fab Four all started to quell fan complaints that squad rotation is not the same as stopping all your best players playing together. An interesting lesson is that they all did start, yet we didn’t win. I think it’s important for us as fans to know that the inclusion of the Fab Four isn’t a guarantee that we’ll batter the opposition.
Before analysing the game, another point is that this draw assumes greater significance by throwing the spotlight on the Everton line-up once again. Only a win here would’ve have gone any way towards vindicating that line-up, but now it just feels as though the Derby was a sacrificial lamb with no purpose. We didn’t win either game and now we’re outside the top 4 on goal difference, having the opportunity to go 3rd with a win against Everton just last Sunday.
I’m going to keep my recap of the game short, mainly because it was dull. The first half contained two key chances, one for either side – Firmino missed the goal marginally following a great delivery by Salah and Robson-Kanu struck the top of the bar from 25 yards with a fine effort.
The second half did open up more, with Karius making an impressive double save (first from Krychowiak and then Yacob). I always like to see Karius do things that I’m not sure Mignolet would, mainly because I want a resolution to this goal-keeper quandary. I want someone to prove themselves as obviously better than the other, and although many would argue that’s Mignolet, I’m not 100% sure.
Mane and Salah both missed good chances, with Salah’s being more gilt edged. Although he is almost immune to criticism (and rightly so), Salah should do better with that header.
Often Klopp is maligned for his substitutions, both their correctness and their timing, but here the duo of Gomez and Solanke made a difference. They injected renewed vigour into the ailing team and combined to create the game’s key controversy. Gomez crossed the ball which was bundled home by Solanke, but he was adjusted to have used him arm and it was chalked off.
It was an unfortunate decision, owing to the fact that the speed of the delivery propelled the ball onto Solanke’s arm. The player himself showed no intention to deliberately handle the ball into the net. Why would he? As I stated on a podcast last night, why would he handle the ball when he could’ve scored that goal with a variety of body parts?
Yet the no-goal stood, with fans and players alike feeling aggrieved at the outcome of two controversial decisions in 4 days. Apart from Solanke having another shot cleared off the line, there were no clear-cut chances and West Brom remained un-breached. The fans left in their droves as the game ended.
There are a few talking points from this game, the first set relate to the players.c-Trent-Alexander Arnold played very well. Defensively resolute and probing in attack he offered Klopp a reminder of his abilities, showing us all that Gomez should just move to centre-back.
Mane did not play well whatsoever. We discussed this on the pod last night, but my view is not to dramatise his drop in form. He’s a human being, his form will fluctuate. Some people forget the nature of the player we inherited because he was so phenomenal last season; however, he was mercurial at Southampton, displaying patchiness as well as moments of genius. My advice would be to omit him for a couple of games, as I don’t believe in the concept of playing players back into form. Just allow him to regroup, we’re well stacked in those areas and I’m certain Adam Lallana is chomping at the bit to play.
As for Solanke, the palpable relief on his face when he thought he’d scored was heart-warming. After an indifferent performance on Sunday, will the misfortune of not actually having his first Premier League goal dent his confidence? I certainly hope not, because he put himself in the position to score last night and his development is exceeding our pre-season expectations. Plus, we could do without the hangover of both drawing the game and seeing Dominic Solanke sapped of his confidence. He’ll be needed over Christmas, and so will his confidence and self-belief.
The final talking point I’ll address is not player-based, it’s centred on mentality. One of the other Liverpool fans on the podcast I was on said that we are an ‘almost club’. I see his point.
We are making progress, but we are arguably being hindered to a greater degree than we are progressing. We are in the last 16 of the Champions League, but we haven’t won a trophy since 2012. We are near the top 4 in the Premier League, but we are embarrassingly far away from a title challenge (not just this season). We have great players, but those great players will go elsewhere if they get stuck in ‘almost purgatory’ (for case in point, see Coutinho).
We want to be at the top echelon of world football, but we’re not quite because of our perennially-exposed weaknesses. Let’s hope those weaknesses aren’t exposed by Bournemouth, and more specifically, by Ryan Fraser. Onto the Vitality stadium on Sunday. Up the Reds! (although I’m still angry at them).