A Tale of Two Performances

The debate around atmospheres has reared its ugly head once more. There is no question that it wasn’t great against Manchester United, although it certainly started off well. It was only really once the match got into full-swing and it was clear the way that it was going to go that things died down to a point that it became noticeably poor. When the atmosphere is part of the discuss, driven by Gary Neville, who knows full well that it is about the only thing that he can be critical of Liverpool for at the moment, it also allows those that would choose to peddle their own agenda an opportunity to do so. There are many people for whom the presence of those from further afield at games at Anfield will always rankle. In spite of the fact that Liverpool is a melting pot of a city, with communities from countless different races and countries mixing together, there will always be a few that believe that Scousers are the only ones who should be at games. There was a tweet from someone in the wake of the game against United pointing out that he’d seen a group of Japanese tourists before the game, linking that to the bad atmosphere.

When a home game is played, there are around 30,000 season tickets sold and about 10,000 tickets sold to members. Even at 60,000, that means that two-thirds of those inside the ground are either going to be local or else dedicated enough to go through the process of joining the members’s sale when it comes around. Whilst all of them are obviously able to move their tickets on to someone else or to return their ticket to the club to be sold on, it is simply not mathematically sound to suggest that a poor atmosphere is entirely down to people taking some photos. I have been to Anfield countless times, both when I had access to a season ticket on the Kop and through members’s sales, and I have been next to locals who do nothing but sit in silence apart from to moan about something before getting off after 85 minutes than I’ve been near ‘tourists’ filming throughout. Yes, there absolutely will be some people there because to be at Anfield is on their bucket list or for some other reason, just as we might go to the Camp Nou, say, but pinning the blame on ‘tourists’ means ignoring a wider problem at the ground.

Turgid Against United

On to the two performances referenced in this piece’s title, then, and starting with the game against Manchester United. I mentioned in the intro that the atmosphere was good initially, with everyone inside Anfield keen to let the Red Devils know that they were in for a tough match. You could see that the United players were struggling initially, with the most nervous goalkeeper in the Premier League hitting the ball out of touch when under no pressure on numerous occasions. We pressed quite well and asked questions of a somewhat makeshift defence, but when the breakthrough didn’t come everyone began to lose their nerve. What happened on the pitch was slow and ponderous, failing to move the United defence around in any meaningful way. Though they obviously had no interest at all in attacking, we didn’t do enough to ask questions of their defence and test their resolve. I have long been of the opinion that the only way to break through a low-block defence with any sort of consistency is to move the ball from side to side quickly and with intent, making them shift around to keep you out.

Instead, what we got was a Liverpool team that was either rushing things without any thought to what they were doing, misplacing passes or taking on stupid shots from distance that had no chance whatsoever of beating all of the people in front of the person shooting. Much more irritating from my point of view was the manner in which we were so slow and ponderous on the ball time and time again. I lost count of the number of occasions on which I said, “Faster!” Alisson Becker would pass the ball to Virgil van Dijk, who would look up and consider his options, then pass it forward to the likes of Wataru Endo. Endo would then look up and see what options he had in front of him, by which time the Manchester United defence was well and truly bedded in, without any real risk of being disrupted. Any time we did move the ball quickly and with intent we looked great and chances were nearly there, but the players up front were having to feed on scraps and were understandably snatching at whatever came. It was a turgid performance against a team ripe for the taking.

Making Amends Against West Ham

If the Manchester United game was slow, ponderous and lacking in any sort of intent, the opposite is true of the game against West Ham. It is, of course, important to point out that there is all sorts of context around the performances, not the least of which is the opposition. Manchester United turned up at Anfield determined to play like the worst possible version of Sean Dyche’s Burnley side, sitting deep and doing nothing to try to actually win the game. The Hammers, on the other hand, realised it was a cup tie and did at least try to play a little bit of football. David Moyes would no doubt say that the two results indicate that he should’ve taken a leaf out of Erik Ten Hag’s book and shown no attacking intent whatsoever, but the truth is that Liverpool didn’t allow West Ham any time to settle. The Reds were at it from the word go, moving the ball quickly and carrying it forward whenever they could. There was a determination from Liverpool to beat a man and push the West Ham players into positions that they didn’t want to be in, ruining their attempts at a shape.

It was a reminder that this Liverpool side does have the ability to disrupt teams and still has the legs to move both the ball and their bodies at speed. At a time when the likes of Dominik Szoboszlai and Darwin Núñez were starting to look a little fatigued, both players showed that they can still do the necessary running to put the opposition team on the back foot. If we’d played like that against United, even with their tactics remaining the same, I’m convinced that we’d have broken them down at least once. In terms of preparation for Arsenal, it was exactly what I wanted to see. Whilst Mikel Arteta might want to turn up at Anfield and park the bus, even he will know that that isn’t something that he can do with his players. They are set up to attack, which, in theory at least, should play into our hands. Of course, the Gunners are significantly better than both West Ham and Manchester United, so it won’t be easy and they will have plenty of opportunities of their own to get at our back line. Mainly, though, I just want us to play with the intent we had against the Hammers rather than the fear we showed against United.

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