Peter gets the views of Caislin Boyle on the WBA Cup Defeat
Up The Trophy-less Reds
I did two things on Saturday night. One, I watched comedy, intended to make me laugh. Two, I watched the Liverpool game, not intended to make me laugh. Yet here I am typing furiously, uttering a hollow laugh at
that performance. There were two key features of this game – we lost and VAR was used. The latter didn’t inform the former and actually saved our blushes, so this recap won’t focus on the rights and wrongs of video assistant refereeing. Much as it was maligned, Liverpool might actually see VAR as a useful distraction to avoid discussion of
what actually matters. And what matters is that we were awful. VAR will make mistakes; it’s in its infancy. This Liverpool team aren’t (allegedly), so there is no such mitigation for the Reds.
This loss is the worst of the season for three reasons; we can’t win a trophy this season (being honest), we didn’t recover from the Swansea defeat and we pushed Alan Pardew one step closer to Wembley and a repeat of ‘that’ dance. Personally I think the third reason is the most offensive. It feels like a succession of results which threaten
to unravel our season, and all involved with the club neither have the ability or inclination to arrest the slide.
Often teams are famed for lacking one quality – for us it’s that we can’t defend. For Everton it’s that they can’t hit a shot on target. For Chelsea it’s that they don’t have Ashley Barnes/another target man in their ranks. What I saw last night is that we entirely lacked an identity. If Liverpool can’t be scintillating going forward, all I see as a fan is a rudderless defence and a midfield lacking presence. No team fears that. We made a West Brom team who have won 1/8th of their Premier League matches this season look imperious. They’ve scored 19 goals in 24 Premier League games, 0.79 goals per game. We allowed them to ride in and put three past us. THREE. And yet all is fine and we
don’t need reinforcements. I’ll discuss the ramifications of this game later, but for now let’s look at the line up that ruined my Saturday night.
Mignolet replaced Karius, Alexander-Arnold came in for Joe Gomez and Moreno came in for Robertson. I didn’t have any issues with these changes aside from the keeper change. Just play Karius. Play him in every game; keepers don’t expend the same amount of energy as outfield players so let him play if he’s your number one. If Klopp didn’t
disrespect the Cup with the rest of his line up, and he didn’t, he did with his choice of keeper. Klopp has made it emphatically clear that Mignolet is not his guy, so don’t put him out there and expect an inspiring performance.
WBA also made three changes, Nyom, Livermore and Robson-Kanu came in for Hegazi, Rondon and Phillips. Realistically though West Brom could’ve put out a team of 11 Jonny Evans’ and Liverpool would’ve still found a way to lose that game.
It all started so well. Firmino put us ahead after just 5 minutes with a sumptuous chip. It all stemmed from a mistake by Jonny Evans, who allowed Salah to out muscle him. Salah’s shot rebounded and was picked up by Bobby, who deftly chipped it home. It’s worth watching Bobby score just to see his unique celebrations. That euphoria lasted all of about three seconds, with West Brom scoring on 7 minutes. There are two challenges which could, and should be won by Liverpool players – this failure creates the chance. Firstly Wijnaldum lost the ball first, followed by Alexander-Arnold. Chris Brunt then slipped the ball into Rodriguez who blasted the ball home. Both Can and Moreno tried to stop his momentum as he shaped to shoot, but both failed. 1-1.
Liverpool sought to respond, and put together an excellent attacking move which saw Mané narrowly miss the ball as it was swept across. Alexander-Arnold hit an excellent pass to the feet of Firmino, who still had a bit to do as he retained possession and slid Salah in. The Egyptian’s cross was inches away from Mané’s anticipating boot.
West Brom then scored their second, with Can particularly culpable in the build-up. He attempted to foul Krychowiak, who shook off the challenge. Rather than try to make things right, he watched on as Gibbs sent an excellent cross toward the onrushing Rodriguez, who was in acres of space. Moreno was the nearest man to Rodriguez, and withVan Dijk being occupied by Robson-Kanu, the Spaniard alone couldn’t prevent Rodriguez from notching his brace.
As I said at the outset, I’m not going to discuss the virtues of VAR save to say that it disallowed the next goal. Craig Dawson had a goal disallowed following a review of the VAR system. The best about this was the inevitable headline ‘Craig Dawson denied by Craig Pawson’.
Liverpool were grateful for this intervention, not once but twice as it secured them a penalty in the latter stages of the first half. Salah went down in the box and the penalty was (eventually awarded). It mattered little as Firmino missed it anyway. The penalty taker issue is prominent insofar as opposition keepers undoubtedly have a boost by knowing that they won’t be facing a proficient taker. In this instance I felt quite sorry for Bobby as it was mere inches from being the epitome of a perfect penalty. Yet, as is well known, the margins for error at the top level are minuscule.
Liverpool continued to try to avenge the scoreline, with another promising attack involving Alexander-Arnold resulting in a chance. His ball over the top was perfect for Salah to run on to, and only the smart keeping of Foster ensured it wasn’t a goal. The subsequent pass allowed Firmino to shoot, but that effort was blocked by Evans. No
The third goal almost felt like slow motion. Dawson was in an uncharacteristically offensive position for West Brom, and a floated ball from Krychowiak left him with ample space to shoot. The final intervention before it went into the net was from Matip, however, so the goal was attributed to him as an OG. There was a question of offside, but the goal was rightly awarded. What Matip was attempting to do with his feet will remain one of life’s great mysteries.
The second half wasn’t quite as eventful as Liverpool huffed and puffed to get back into the game. Milner stung the palms of Foster following good work from Alexander-Arnold down the right. No goal but the Reds were pushing. Alexander-Arnold (for all that his overall game wasn’t great), was a strong offensive outlet and the second Liverpool
goal came from his positive work. He took on Brunt and put a testing ball into the feet of Bobby, whom it bounced up before coming to Mo Salah. Salah hit a first-time shot and scored, as he demonstrated his instinctive prowess. Liverpool were back in the contest with 12 minutes remaining.
12 minutes you say? That’s time enough to change the entire way in which you play football, as Liverpool did. They adopted the questionable strategy of lofting ball after ball into a box of tall defenders. Shockingly this did not yield a goal. West Brom looked comfortable as they completed a prolonged Pulis-like heading drill for just over 10 minutes. The only chance of note came to Van Dijk in the dying embers of the game, his header skidding into the grateful arms
of Ben Foster. Milner’s ball in was excellent, but the header didn’t overly trouble Foster. And that was that – game over, Liverpool out of the Cup.
No sooner had the final whistle been blown than talk began of the ramifications of this loss, the main one being the need for signings. For the avoidance of doubt I love Klopp and he is our man. However, if he is growing tired of the incessant transfer questions, then ensure the team performs to such a level that fans don’t demand signings. The
calls wouldn’t be so loud if there weren’t obvious deficiencies in the team. Klopp said on Friday that further signings weren’t likely, but also stated that “I can’t forget our needs – we have a lot of games to come”. The two sentiments contradict each other, for our very specific needs are another attacker, a midfielder and a keeper. Now I accept all three are not likely, but satisfying one of those needs could mark the difference between having both Premier and Champions League football to balance, or just the Premier League. Watching the triumvirate of Milner, Henderson and Ings come on was the most obvious representation that our current squad is not deep enough.
Failing to make signings also has an impact on morale. Do you think for one moment Firmino, Mané and Salah haven’t cast an envious eye over the Old Trafford? Once a player has the slightest doubt about a club’s direction you run the risk of inviting agent comments. Liverpool do not want that.
Beyond the need for signings, our defending was dreadful. In the Swansea game you could argue that they have one chance which (slightly) fortuitously goes in. THAT West Brom team cut through us at will. In his post-match interview Klopp explained each goal and how it could have been avoided. What I noted was that there was an elementary mistake in the play preceding each goal;
Goal 1 – “we could have shot the ball somewhere, into the stand or whatever and then it’s done” Goal 2 – “Rodriguez alone in the box, which makes absolutely no sense. We lose him in midfield” Goal 3 – “you only have to push up then Dawson is 100 percent offside”
So, in order, Liverpool have neglected to understand when to take the ‘safety first’ approach, how to track a player and the basic fundamentals of a defensive line. Three elementary mistakes, three goals. One of those mistakes could be forgiven each game, the players are human. But to make three typifies just how deep this defensive malaise runs. Klopp would argue that he signed Van Dijk to change things, and those critics demanding reinforcements should note that signings aren’t saviours as of right. I agree in part, but I also stand by everything I said above – making signings is about more than fixing systemic problems on the pitch. I have already discussed their impact on squad depth and morale.
Basically we can’t defend and that’s where I’m going to leave it. I can’t be bothered to discuss the team anymore; I’m going to eat ice-cream. Up the trophy-less Reds!
Big thanks to Cash for her work for www.friendsofliverpool.com