Chelsea 1 – Liverpool 0: Match Review & Analysis

There are some people that genuinely feel as though Jürgen Klopp should’ve sacrificed the chance of making it into the final of the Champions League in order to get three points against one of West Bromwich Albion or Stoke. That would’ve guaranteed top four, meaning that we’d be in the competition again next season, with these folks believing that winning the thing when we’re actually in it is secondary. Even aside from the fact that there was no guarantee that we’d have been able to beat either Stoke or West Brom, especially given that Manchester United and Tottenham have both lost to the Baggies in the last two games, the manager will have been looking at the fixtures and feeling as though he could still finish top four. That’s not good enough for these folks, however, and they’re actually angry that we didn’t go weaker in the Champions League in order to have top four sewn up by now.

Heading into this game, we knew that a point against Chelsea would be enough to secure our position in the top four for next season. We also knew that losing would mean that we’d need to beat Brighton on the final day of the campaign to do the same thing, presuming that both Chelsea and Spurs win their game in hand. Back in August, I wonder how many Liverpool supporters would’ve taken a game against a newly promoted side, who had nothing left to play for, to get Champions League football again? That’s without adding in an appearance in the final of the competition, which we still have to come and which would also secure us a return to it next year, of course. Yet some people honestly think we’re a team of ‘bottlers’, citing the fact that we couldn’t beat Stoke, West Brom or Chelsea as proof. Football doesn’t exist in a vacuum, though, and there’s the small matter of a Champions League final charge that some people are willingly ignoring. What happened today, then, to put us in this situation?

We’re Knackered

As I say, football doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You can talk all you like about what ‘should’ have happened, but this Liverpool team has reached the final of the Champions League. The reason why that’s happened is down to the manager having used his squad in an intelligent manner, which has involved resting players against weaker teams. Should we have beaten West Brom when 2-0 up with ten minutes to go? Absolutely. Should we have beaten Stoke City at home? Of course we should. But then you remember that pesky Champions League competition and the fact that we’d played huge games before and after the matches against Stoke and the Baggies and sensible people realise that fatigue is a real thing.

We looked exhausted today, not just physically but mentally. The choices made in the final third were those of a team that have put everything into reaching the final of the Biggest club competition in the world. It was a performance that came on the back of having put everything into doing enough against Roma to ensure progression, with practically no time to recover when you take the time needed to fly home into account. It’s a clear sign that Jürgen Klopp needs to do his utmost to strengthen the squad heading into next season, given the manner in which we’ve failed to get top four sewn up over the last couple of weeks. He knows it, of course, but now the reality is looking ever starker.

The Midfield Didn’t Work

Everything that I say from now on must be bracketed with the disclaimer that I’ve written above. Some supporters don’t seem to think that fatigue is an issue, that they’re ‘professional footballers’ and therefore there’s no excuse, but those people are idiots. Yet we can’t simply say ‘fatigue’ and have that take care of everything. The reality is that the midfield didn’t work; at least not until Jordan Henderson came on and injected it with a bit of energy and purpose. Just as fatigue needs to be taken into account as a factor, so too much Trent Alexander-Arnold’s age be borne in mind when discussing his performances. His incredible play against the likes of Manchester City has perhaps encouraged some to forget that he’s still young and inexperienced. That, combined with the fact that he’ll also be tired, showed today.

I can completely understand why the manager has felt as though he wanted to have a look at Trent in midfield, given the lack of other options in there and the possibility of injuries, yet it’s an experiment that simply hasn’t worked. He has made that his position for the Under-23s, but against both Stoke and Chelsea he’s looked like a boy up against men. He could easily develop to become a top-class midfielder, but for the foreseeable future he shouldn’t be moved out of the right-back slot. He wasn’t helped by James Milner, I have to say. I’ve had to eat humble pie over the club’s vice-captain and I’ve been happy to do so. He’s been in brilliant form lately and has made my criticism of him look foolish. However, when he’s bad he absolutely stinks the place out and he could barely find a pass today. Hopefully it’s just a blip in an otherwise excellent period for him.

It’s Still In Our Hands

A win or draw today would have made it a done deal, but qualification for next season’s Champions League is still in our own hands. If we’d been told at the start of the season that a top four finish would come down to a home match against Brighton a week after they secured their position in the league for another campaign, we’d definitely all have taken it. Add into the mix the fact that we’ll have a European Cup final to play and only the most moronic of Liverpool fan wouldn’t have snapped your hand off for that situation back in August. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be frustrated by the way it’s all happened – after all, we were 2-0 up against West Brom with fifteen minutes left to play and we should’ve have about three penalties against Stoke. Yet this is where we are and I think most people would’ve accepted this given the choice nine months ago.

It’s far from ideal, but it is what is. There are never any guarantees in football and I expect Brighton to show up at Anfield and give us a game, but those worried about them being a defensive team that we’ll struggle to break down have apparently decided to forget the fact that we put five past them in December. Given the option of playing a newly promoted team who will be as close to on the beach as it’s possible to get, we have to be honest and say that we’d have taken that even as recently and February. That, of course, is presuming that both Spurs and Chelsea win their last two games, which is also far from guaranteed. Unlike today and against both West Brom and Stoke, we’ll be rested when Brighton come to town. It’s also worth remembering that the manager likes his teams to have rhythm, so he’ll be playing his strongest team regardless. Today wasn’t his strongest team and no one was rested. The result wasn’t a shock.

What’s Happened To Salah?

I’ve been as amazed and delighted with the performances of Mohamed Salah as everyone else this season. When he arrived, I thought that he was just going to be a backup to Sadio Mané, another fast lad that we could bring in when the Senegalese sensation was out injured. Obviously he’s been so much more than that, winning the Player Of The Year award and putting himself in prime position for the chance to win the Golden Boot. This isn’t a statement that ignores all of that, therefore. If anything, it’s precisely because of all of that that I’m trying to get my head around exactly what’s happened to him as the season’s worn on. Obviously he was sensational against Roma in the Champions League, but in the Premier League the Egyptian’s performances have been found wanting for a few weeks now. I absolutely understand why Jürgen Klopp keeps playing him, not only because he’s our best player but also as man management when he’ll be wanting to score a couple of goals and bag that top-scorer award. But the might the manager have done well to give him a rest at some point?

It’s incredibly difficult to ask questions of a man who has scored forty-three goals in all competitions this season. Yet I do think he’s been making poor decisions lately when he’s been unsure whether to pass or shoot. Some people have suggested that he’s been nothing but selfish in his last few games but I’m not sure that I agree with that. I think he’s been looking for passes when they weren’t on precisely to avoid the appearance of selfishness and then taking on shots when a pass was the better option because he’s desperate to tie up the goalscoring record. I think the manager has a responsibility to remind him that the team is the most important thing and that personal glory comes second. We’ve seen with Harry Kane’s embarrassing decision to beg for a goal from one of his teammates what can happen when you’re only thinking about yourself. He’s an amazing player and I love him, but I do fear that he’s been gripped by fatigue and a confused mindset in recent weeks. The problem, though, remains that the top-quality options aren’t there to rest him. He’s now got a week off until Brighton and three weeks off until the Champions League final. Rest, recuperate and a return to his goalscoring ways would be ideal.

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